I’ve written a lot about how important positive, or confirming, feedback is to a person’s performance. The reason is simple: People tend to do more of what they’re praised or rewarded for. If I tell you that I like the way you did something, you’re more likely to do that again. But there’s another reason positive feedback can improve performance.
A number of years ago I was coaching a race driver who had been a mid-pack performer, mostly due to a lack of experience. In other words, he had good basic skills and techniques, but rarely put them all together because he just hadn’t developed the ability to do so yet. The best he had qualified for a race all season had been 12th.
Prior to a qualifying session about two-thirds of the way through the season I asked this driver to tell me about the best performance he had had in any activity in his life. He recounted – and replayed in his mind – a hockey game he’d played a few years earlier where he had been totally in the zone, and played the best ever. During our conversation, I asked him what emotions he felt during that time, and it was obvious from his facial expressions how positive they had been.
Moments after our conversation he got in the car and went out for qualifying. He put it on the pole, setting fast time amongst two dozen drivers. First place!
What happened? Did he gain extra skill all of a sudden? No, he simply accessed all of his abilities within him. The replaying of the past success had triggered a performance state of mind. It had made him happy.
When someone is provided with positive feedback, it triggers a performance state of mind; it makes them happy. And, while it may seem simple, research study after research study have proven that people perform better when they’re happy. Read Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage for details.
So, not only does positive feedback confirm for a person that they should do more of what they were praised for, but it puts them in a better state of mind. It actually makes them happier. Either way, they’re more likely to perform at a higher level because of it.
Of course, the feedback needs to be genuine…