“Do more” feedback

My friend wanted to communicate more clearly. He asked, “Can you tell me when you think I’m being unclear?” I agreed, but it wasn’t fun or helpful for either of us. By pointing out unclear moments, he was just getting more examples of what not to do. It was like teaching someone 2+2=4 by saying, “2+2 is not 5. Or 18. Or 62.”

The problem was, I didn’t know how else to help. My friend eventually flipped the script. He said, “Tell me when you see me communicate clearly, and then tell me what made it clear to you.” It was a hallelujah! shift.

There are two options when giving feedback. We can either say “do more of this” or “do less of that.” It’s common to prioritize “do less” feedback over “do more” feedback, as I initially did with my friend. Many factors influence this:

Practicality. Sometimes, it’s easier to express what we don’t like, want, or need. Saying, “I don’t want to see another superhero movie!” is an example of this. We may not know what kind of movie we want to see, but we know what kind we don’t.

Cultural bias. Problem solvers are admired and rewarded in our culture. Problem-solving is about asking, “What should we do less frequently?” Some of us want to be admired and rewarded, so we focus on finding and solving problems. Similarly, I don’t see much cultural faith in “do more” feedback. People perceive it as less helpful and soft.

Cognitive bias. When we know something is working, we assume other people know it too. So we don’t mention it. This is a product of the curse of knowledge.

When I have the choice between “do less” feedback or no conversation at all, I pick “do less” feedback over silence. But if I can learn the same lesson via “do less” feedback or “do more” feedback, I choose the latter. “Do more” feedback tends to leave me energized and hopeful. It’s like someone showing me where to find the puzzle pieces I’ve been looking all over for.

I want more of that.

The Beatles “Do More”

On Anthology 3, we can hear The Beatles recording an early version of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”—a favorite song of mine.2 When they finish the take, Paul McCartney applauds John Lennon’s keyboard playing.

“What you were doing then . . . That’s the kind of thing that would be nice, ” Paul says. “To have one of the verses . . . like, uh, classical.”

“What’s that?” John says.

“You know,” Paul says, demonstrating what he heard John play. “That kind of variation, it needs a bit.”

Paul is highlighting what he appreciates about John’s playing—what he wants more of.

We can do something similar at work—practice together, hear what our teammates appreciate about different approaches, and note what inspires us. If we see a chance to offer critical feedback along the way, we can always share it after the session, one-on-one.

More ways to use “do more” feedback

When I’m giving someone feedback, I keep these phrases close:

  • “I think you are at your best when you . . . ”
  • “I thought you nailed it when you . . . ”
  • “I always appreciate it when you . . . ”

When I want to give a teammate “do more” feedback, but I can’t find an example of them doing the behavior I want to see more of, I look harder. If I still can’t find it, I can reference another teammate: “You know how Julie gets written agreements with our customers?” I might say privately. “I’d like to see you getting written agreements too.”

Everything is a balance, which means “do less” feedback has a crucial place in this world. I’m sure The Beatles spent plenty of time saying, “Can you cut that out?” Or, “Can you tone that down?” This note is simply a reminder that “do more” feedback is an alternative way to get where we want to go—one that may serve our relationships better.

If you want more talk of “do more” feedback, watch the “Highlight What’s Working” episode of the Do Better Work video series or read chapter 5 of the book.

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