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A good friend of mine was in a counselling session with his partner. It was probably a last-ditch attempt to save the relationship.  He was being accused of being over critical; he openly admitted he could be critical but felt he was equally complimentary. And therein lay the problem. He was ignoring the 5:1 rule of giving feedback.

Research carried out by a team at Harvard found that in general, the recipient needs to hear 5 compliments to one critical comment before any compliment could actually be heard. 

That doesn’t mean you have to trot out 5 compliments before daring to make a criticism.  Rather that the flow over a given time-period needs to average around 5 positive things to 1 negative.

Tone, frequency, level of comment all play a big part too.  A compliment delivered with even a slightly ‘off’ tone of voice can sound sarcastic. Giving feedback (and receiving it too) are skills that very few of us are born with. Most of us have to learn.

The research also showed that this is equally true for both workplace and romantic relationships.  In both, the most frequent straw that finally broke the camel’s back was that the manager/spouse/partner was ‘always making critical comments to me’. In romantic relationships, the most oft-quoted example of this was variations on “you’re not wearing that again, are you?”

For those of you with children, it applies to them too. I was at a school event last week and overheard a conversation between a teacher and a pupil.  It took several attempts to convince the pupil that her work really was way above standard.

Coming back to business: if you want the best out of your team members there’s more than enough evidence to show they need to feel valued. Whilst money is one yardstick of value there are other equally, if not more important ways including verbal, positive acknowledgement. This can often be nothing more complicated or time-consuming than ‘Well done. Thank you’.  In this way, trust is built up, and compliments and criticisms can both be heard and understood.

Trust rarely just happens by chance. If you’d like to know more about our workshops on giving and receiving feedback, and building trust with your team members (or your spouse), please give Bryan or Kieron a call on 01933 462 130.