How to Handle Feedback in the ‘Everything is Awesome’ World

How do you provide feedback to your direct reports?

Are you a stern task master, always making sure that your employees are following your instructions to the most minute detail? Or are you the type to provide a framework of expectations and get out of the way, letting your team enjoy the freedom to work and be creative as long as they get stuff done?

In either case, as The Wall Street journal pointed out in a report last week, the common corporate mantra when it comes to feedback these days is to lean more on the positive side. According to the Journal, "employers are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback." The hope is that a more positive management environment will foster a more productive atmosphere.

This idea has been top of mind of late, as talent managers focus on ways to harness positive psychology to increase the motivation and engagement of their workforces.

We've seen plenty of stories in the magazine these last few months that accentuate the point. September's cover story case study on Adobe's performance management system shift to a more frequent "check-in" approach shows how positive informal conversations around performance help workers build on strengths and work better to improve weaknesses.

Still, I wonder if the overly positive approach to feedback has its limits. In a perfect world — and with a perfect employee — sure, focusing only on the positive is likely effective. But sometimes — and in specific industries — being a little tough can be beneficial as well, especially with an employee who perhaps has taken advantage of a "nice" manager and whose work has suffered as a result.

For instance, our former intern Eric Short explored the idea that negative thinking has a role to play in management, showing that sometimes being too positive can sweep weaknesses under the rug to a fault.

As is most often the case, the answer to how to properly provide feedback as a manager is likely somewhere in the middle.

Of course, the default option, in my view, should indeed be positive. But that isn't to say that in certain circumstances a little tough love can't be useful. A delicate balance of both is likely needed to get the most of our your employees.

What do you think? Is the a right or wrong approach to feedback on this scale? I'd love to read your comments below.