Do you feel you’re getting the most you can out of the positive feedback you receive? When your performance review comes around it can be a great relief to receive positive feedback. Receiving appreciation for your work can be a great motivator, automatically boosting your morale.

However, many people fail to take full advantage of the significant resources positive feedback can provide. Some may feel hesitant to accept recognition, feeling modest about their achievements. Others may be good at accepting appreciation but fail to process it effectively. As a manager it’s particularly important that you learn how to use positive feedback to benefit your career and your team.


The Link between your positive feedback and employee engagement


Gallup’s 2015 report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, revealed that 51% of US managers are not engaged at work. This can greatly impact their employees in what Gallup calls the “cascade effect”. They found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged at work. Employee engagement is not simply about being happy but about feeling committed to your company and caring about your work. Positive feedback is one of the strongest ways of promoting company loyalty amongst employees, with 88% valuing recognition from their managers over monetary rewards.

Even if you feel hesitant accepting it, you have to admit it feels good to be appreciated for your work. You may confuse this for vanity, but it’s actually a natural reaction that occurs when your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is what causes the overall feeling of satisfaction you have when you’ve achieved your goal.

Whether caused by low self-esteem or perfectionist tendencies, when receiving a compliment some people fight against this feeling and try to deflect the positive comments they’ve received. Constantly seeing your work in a negative light will bring down your confidence. What you may not realize is that failing to accept that feeling of satisfaction can actually impact the quality of your work and by consequence, the effectiveness of your employees.

New research suggests that dopamine may actually be a great motivator. While previously linked only to pleasure sensors in the brain, researchers at the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón have found evidence that high levels of dopamine can actually encourage us to act and persevere to achieve goals.


Using your feedback to tap into your strengths


If you learn how to analyze and use positive feedback to your advantage, you can gain valuable insights into your professional strengths. Researcher and applied psychology expert Michelle McQuaid has been at the forefront of what has been called the ‘Strengths Revolution’. Through her research she has demonstrated the effectiveness of focusing on improving professional strengths over weaknesses. The rationale behind this shift is the motivation that employees feel when their efforts and abilities are recognized.

According to McQuaid’s research, 71% of managers who can name their employees strengths are more likely to have employees who are engaged and energized. A Gallup study has supported these findings, revealing that managers who are focused on strengths are 86% more likely to achieve above average performance levels. Identifying your strengths will help you to create goals for the future and come up with more effective ways of approaching a problem. Positive feedback is the key to unlocking your strengths based potential.


There are four main steps that will help you to harness the benefits of positive feedback:


1. Share appreciation

The way you respond to feedback is just as important as learning how to accept it. If your feedback is based on a team success it’s essential that you recognize your employees for their efforts and share the good feeling with everyone. As you read in giving positive feedback to your employees, recognizing your team will boost motivation and engagement. Your employees will also feel a stronger sense of community when group efforts are recognized, building team spirit. What’s more, sharing recognition will demonstrate you’re not the kind of manager who will try to take all the credit for your employees’ hard work.

For example, if you receive positive feedback from upper management you can recognize your employees’ efforts by saying, “Thank you, we had an amazing group of people working on this project and we couldn’t have done it without the participation of the whole team.” Share your recognition with the rest of the team by saying, “You played a key role in our achievement and our senior management has been very satisfied with the results, lets keep it up and continue looking for new opportunities.”


2. Identify your strengths and use them to power up your management style

To identify your strengths, separate the facts from opinions. This is particularly helpful if you’re uncertain whether the feedback you were given was sincere. If your reviewer tells you that you’re a great organizer, ask for specific examples in which you demonstrated this ability. After you’ve received positive feedback from multiple sources compare what was said and see if you can pick out any common threads.

Your strengths may not be traditional assets like being a good listener, team player, etc. Watch for abilities that others consider to be strengths. For example, facilitating the integration of the whole group or managing different personalities to get the best out of the team.

Relying on your strengths rather than trying to use weaknesses when an important assignment comes up can help you succeed. Think about how you can utilize your strengths to approach a problem in a different way. Based on your strengths, what in particular can you bring to the team?


3. How can you leverage your strengths to benefit your team?

Now that you’ve learned how to process your positive feedback it’s important to help your employees do the same. Showing appreciation to your employees is an effective way of improving your employees’ job satisfaction and confidence. Furthermore, if your team knows what each other’s strengths are it will become easier to delegate and assign tasks to the most suitable person, making your projects even more successful. Learning how to use your strengths will make you the perfect coach to teach your employees how to identify and utilize theirs effectively.


4. Set Goals for Yourself

Don’t take strengths for granted, they are skills which should continue to be developed. In an article directed towards teachers experiencing burnout at the end of the school year, Neurologist Judy Willis suggests using a video game model of goal setting to kick start dopamine-induced motivation. The video game model involves three essential components: “buy-in, achievable challenges, and frequent awareness of achievable progress en route to the final goal.” This tactic can be instrumental in helping students achieve a growth mindset, and it can also help teachers reach their goals in the classroom.

However, Willis asserts that these goals should be based on activities you will enjoy doing. This is where your strengths can come in handy. In an interview, McQuaid explained that she uses her curiosity to learn and share something new with her employees every day. To achieve this goal she lays a book or article across her keyboard every evening. This forces her to pick it up and read for ten minutes before she turns her computer on the next morning. She then shares this information with her boss, a co-worker or her employees.

Tracking your progress with positive feedback at work can similarly help you to stay engaged and even improve your performance. So the next time you receive positive feedback, instead of brushing it off allow yourself to enjoy the moment and benefit from it.


Summary and take-aways:


Everyone feels good receiving recognition for their work. Learning how to channel your positive feedback into your professional development plan will help you to identify your strengths and boost your motivation at work.


  • Recognize your team’s contribution
  • Analyze feedback to gain insights into your strengths
  • Use your strengths to improve and streamline your management style
  • Find ways to use your strengths to benefit the rest of the team
  • Set achievable goals for yourself so you can continue developing your skills every day