Choose Your Words Carefully to Build Stronger Teams

It is well-known that unkind words can erode relationships, just as kind ones can build them. Thus it is no surprise that employees respond best to frequent and positive feedback. In fact, they thrive on it. The data supporting the power of positive feedback and positivity abounds. A study by Losada and Heaphy regarding positivity demonstrates that this holds true and is best for creating effective teams, as well.

Losada and Heaphy’s study further identifies the ideal compliment-to-criticism ratio as correlated to high-performing teams. That ratio is 5.6 to 1 positive to negative feedback. Ratios above 3.0 to 1.0 generally reveal more positivity and more effective teams. Other research from John Gottman and Barbara Fredrickson supports these findings.

It is not to say that constructive and sometimes negative feedback must be completely eliminated. Context is important for growth and development. If employees are never steered back on course, poor performance and patterns may be repeated. Generally, though, frequent and harsh criticism is unnecessary and can backfire by leaving employees discouraged and disengaged. Quite simply, positive feedback is more motivating. It builds relationships and connection for stronger employees and teams.

Attention to word choice is a key component for enhancing positivity. Words like “but,” “always,” “never,” “why,” and “should” often alienate while “great idea,” “well done,” and “thank you” (especially when accompanied by specific examples) go a long way toward increasing engagement. Ideally managers do not wait until a performance review to acknowledge and compliment employees. Kind words are best offered all year through.

Attend our session on Cultivating Kindness in the Workplace to learn how kindness can build your team.