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I was helped by your 2-part article on “Feedback that Makes a Difference” (Inquirer, July 24 and July 31, 2011) because I did try to practice what you advised.  I was one supervisor who was quick to criticize but never gave any praise.  You were right that this was due to my failure to get the required stroke quota because my boss is so busy with meetings that I never receive any affirmation for my excellent work, which I know I perform.  My parents also were never given to praising us their children.  I tried giving positive feedback to a subordinate who submitted a good report.  I knew I did not give her the advised smile that you prescribed.  However, I did get a happy smile from her and it made me happy.  My daily objective now is to give at least one positive feedback to each one of my four subordinates.   I have also changed the way I give negative feedback, thanks to your advice.

 My question is:  If I always give positive feedback to every positive behavior, won’t there be satiation, such that it will no longer achieve its purpose.  As they say, “Too much of a good thing is not good.”  Thank you.

                                                                                               Mr. Trying Hard


Thank you for your positive feedback that my 2-part article has helped you.  It made me very happy.  Congratulations for your humility to accept your deficiency and for your successful efforts to apply what you have learned.  Continue to do the feedback behaviors until this becomes habitual with you and until your employees’ positive behaviors become positive habits.  Reward yourself with an “I did it!” feeling and really feeling good about yourself.  This is your intrinsic positive reinforcement since no one is likely to give you the extrinsic “pat on the back”.


I’m glad you asked about the possibility of satiation or an overdose of positive feedback.  You need to vary the recognition you give.  Recognition that becomes rote no longer motivates.  You could alternate the verbal with the non-verbal and with a written feedback.


Examples of verbal:

  • “This is a good point you made.”
  • “I like the way you put it.”
  • “This is great.”
  • “I agree with it.”


But always give the affirmation with a smile and eye contact.


For example:  If an employee who habitually comes late in reporting to work, comes before 8 a.m., you can tell her, “I see that you came in at 7:50 a.m. today.  What brought this about?” while looking at her with a smile on your face.  The next day, she comes at 7:45 a.m., you can say, “I took note of your arrival at 7:45.  I’m happy about this.” The next day she arrives at 7:55 a.m., you say to her, “OK, Jinky!

Examples of non-verbal:

  • Nod of approval given with a smile
  • Attentive listening while looking with interest at the person talking
  • Showing enthusiasm at the person’s suggestion


Examples of written feedback.  Written work submitted by an employee can also get a written commendation, such as the use of the following symbols:

ü  (check)

«  (star)





Paste a gold star on the report.


or writing on the report:

“Good!” “Great!”


“One of the best reports you’ve submitted.”


A very powerful positive reinforcement is giving a letter or e-mail of commendation for noteworthy achievement, such as a medical representative getting a prescription from a doctor who had long prescribed a competitive product.  Make sure that your boss and your boss’ boss are forwarded copies.  And, as important, the memo is in the employee’s 201 File.


My suggestions are those that can be given freely by a supervisor/manager without cost to organization.  There is of course formal recognition to celebrate milestones such as when

  • an employee earns a graduate degree
  • a sales person earns the annual award for top performance
  • a team exceeds the super target
  • etc

This article does not include such milestones that require plaques, trophies, cash rewards, trip abroad, etc.


Shift from Continuous to Intermittent Reinforcement.  When you want your employee to develop a positive habit, give him positive feedback every time he does a positive behavior.  This is continuous reinforcement.  When this positive behavior is done regularly,   switch to intermittent reinforcement or giving positive feedback at irregular intervals. This means that you give positive feedback on the third, then fifth, then eight, then back again to second, sixth, etc. that the behavior is performed.   Research by behavioral psychologists showed this method to be effective in maintaining positive behaviors and habits.


Other Types of Reinforcements

 In addition to the above one-on-one praising or verbal/non-verbal positive reinforcements, employees may be motivated by other types of reinforcements for good performance.  Examples are:

  • Making him feel he is contributing to something bigger than  his work, in fact, to the over-all mission and goal of the company.  Ex. hotel laundry workers do not just wash sheets but play a vital role in guest’ over-all hotel experience satisfaction
  • Being given an opportunity to become visible to top management such as being brought to attend a management meeting
  • Being exposed to a different function related to employee’s interest
  • Being chosen to attend a company (in-house) training event, or to attend a conference or convention without his attendance/participation being constantly interrupted by calls from his boss (you)
  • Giving him opportunity to attend public training programs to acquire/ be updated on a new technology and having him attend without being called to the office to attend to an urgent matter
  • Being consulted on specific problems in which the employee has experience or in which he has special competence
  • Involving the employee in making a decision that affects his work or his team or in matters where he has relevant expertise.
  • Giving employee participation in setting unit/team goals/objectives
  • Enabling him to be part of task forces or ad hoc committees
  • Having the employee represent the team, unit or department in a meeting
  • Being delegated certain tasks and trusting him to do them well

And don’t forget to remember to greet them on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.  Giving a balloon or a flower on these important events can boost their self-esteem.  Surprise a star salesperson by having champagne in her room the next time she bags a big sale.  She deserves it!


Be creative in giving positive reinforcement.  If one reinforcer doesn’t work, try another.  The best way to find out which reinforcement is meaningful to him is to ask him directly “What will make you happy after doing a good performance?” and then listen to his answer.  As he talks, listen for values, needs and interest.


Shaping Positive Behaviors.  When an employee has difficulty acquiring a new behavior or performing a certain standard of performance it is important for the boss to clearly define the behavior or standard in observable terms.  Example:  Objective: to make six successful sales calls in a day following the itinerary without backtracking.  “Successful sales call” is defined as calling on the right target client and closing the sale.  The boss recognizes the right actions and corrects the wrong ones so that these are not repeated.  This is especially true for new employees or employees learning new skills or new technology.  As the employee makes progress, the boss gives immediate positive feedback.


Giving sincere positive feedback or positive reinforcement is very important to foster a strong and positive relationship between the boss and his employee.  It is the key to maintaining productivity in the workplace. Make the giving of recognition a habit.  It doesn’t cost you anything.  But it does a lot of good to a person’s morale and boosts his productivity.  And it makes you feel great!



Josie O. Santamaria