What's the Right Balance of Praise and Criticism?

Help the people you lead thrive by giving feedback well

What’s the ideal balance between positive and critical feedback? Well, it depends. Here are three situations:

With your significant other. Research indicates that if you give your significant other critical feedback (and you want the relationship to last), you need at least a 5-to-1 ratio of positive versus critical feedback.

With kids. To bring out the best in children (either yours or other’s), use the same ratio above.

  • Sometimes give 100 percent positive feedback. When teaching a new skill, provide close to 100 percent positive feedback to help your child learn the correct way. As she or he learns the skill, offer critical (or corrective) feedback to correct mistakes. Research indicates that positive feedback motivates novice’s commitment and corrective feedback motivates experts desire to improve.


  • Give corrective feedback. To help your child learn to correct mistakes, give corrective feedback (how to do it more correctly) rather than giving critical feedback. Here’s an example. You’re potty training a little boy, and he relieves himself in a container rather than the toilet. Critical feedback might be, “No, not in the potted plant!” Corrective feedback could be: “You’re getting closer. Can you hit the water and make it splash?” (To learn more about when and how to use corrective feedback please go here.)


With employees. In Gino Wickman and Rene Boer's book “How to Be a Great Boss,” they write, “Great bosses give both genuine praise and helpful criticism [corrective feedback].” And they define four types of bosses:

Source: Wickman and Boer. 2016. “How to Be a Great Boss.” BenBella Books Inc.

Quadrant 1: The “Cheerleader” excessively praises, which eventually becomes disingenuous and can lead to mediocrity and poor morale.

Quadrant 2: The “Poor Boss” creates a feedback vacuum that leaves employees wondering what’s expected, how they’re doing, and how they can get a better job and boss.

Quadrant 3: The “Taskmaster” is either afraid to praise or thinks praise leads to complacency or reward-seeking, such as a pay increase. The praise vacuum leaves people wondering if they can ever meet expectations, and it can damage their confidence in performing their jobs.

Quadrant 4: The “Great Boss” gives authentic praise and corrective feedback to develop high-performing individuals, teams, and a healthy organizational culture with high levels of accountability. You can find more about this here.

The “Great Boss” provides:

  • A 5-to-1 ratio of compliments to corrective feedback (in general).
  • Corrective feedback with a positive constructive tone.
  • Different amounts of positive versus corrective feedback, based on the receiver’s skill or competency level.

If you manage or lead people, understanding and applying the ideal balance between positive and critical (or corrective) feedback will help you and others thrive.

Categories: Management & Leadership