Motivating with feedback

Arguably, all feedback is motivational. No? Let’s try again. All feedback is intended to be motivational. What is it they say about the ‘road to hell’ and intentions? Once again. All feedback should be motivational, in the workplace at least. Can we agree on that?

After all, why else would you be giving someone feedback at work if you’re not trying to motivate them? If it’s feedback about something positive, you want them to continue what they’re doing well, even build on it. And if it’s about something negative (often dressed up, these days, as “developmental feedback”, and more on that in a moment…*) you want them to stop whatever it is they’re doing and do it differently or better. Either way, you’re aiming to provoke/encourage/motivate(!) a particular behaviour in the future.

Whether the underlying message is Well done, or Could do better, as the feedback-giver, you’re asking them to take action, actually do something with the message you’re giving. By attempting to prompt action, feedback must be motivational and motivating otherwise it’s not effective feedback. In which case, what’s the point?

*Incidentally… it’s common these days to distinguish between ‘motivational’ and ‘developmental’ feedback. The first being positive commentary on something done well, the second being commentary aiming to help the person change (develop) more desirable behaviour in the future. Clearly someone, somewhere was looking to avoid the phrase “negative feedback” and for good reason. But the implication that development is somehow separate to motivation or can take place without it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Put another way, you want ‘em to change, you better give ‘em a reason to do so; in other words, motivation!

Are you motivational?

So, feedback should be motivational. That brings us to your feedback. The feedback you give. Two questions:

  1. Is it done in a motivational way?
  2. Is it perceived and received as motivational?

Even if you give a resounding ‘yes’ to the first question, it’s not possible to be as sure for the second. Yet, without a ‘yes’ to both, the feedback isn’t motivational. For the first, it boils down to thinking carefully about what you say, how you say it, and when. For the second, you need to understand the person you’re offering the feedback to – what’s important to them, what drives them, what they’re interested in…

Motivational feedback – a few tips…

  • Framing – How are you framing your feedback messages? What’s the context? What’s the underlying driver? For example, if you’re talking about behaviour that is somehow undesirable or needs improvement, are you delivering a telling off, a threat, a suggestion, a clear statement of what’s needed in future…? And whose interests does your message serve? Does the phrasing, tone and timing suggest that you’re solely looking after the organisation or are you trying to help the individual as well?
  • Keep a growth mindset – A growth mindset is ideal for learning organisations. It believes that intelligence can be developed, that people want to learn, that challenges are opportunities, that obstacles are to be surmounted, that criticism is useful, and that getting things wrong is okay because it’s all part of learning ‘mastery’. A growth mindset brings a positive and supportive attitude to giving feedback.
  • A coaching approach – When giving feedback, are you there as a boss or as a coach? While there are numerous approaches to coaching (humanist, cognitive, goal-oriented…) the basic elements are the same: you’re focused on the individual and their specific situation/needs, it’s a conversation not a ‘lecture’, you offer a combination of support and challenge, and the emphasis is on the present and the future, not the past.


If this has prompted a thought or two about your feedback, or how feedback is given in your organisation, Maximum Performance offers a virtual or face-to-face training session – Delivering Motivational Feedback – that can be tweaked to your specific requirements. You can see more information online via the link or simply give us a call on 01582 463460.  We’re here to help!

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