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I found out that what fuels me to do well at work is positive reinforcement from bosses, colleagues, and customers.

My current job at a start-up is very demanding. My boss doesn't have time to give positive reinforcement, and I'm always behind schedule, so maybe I haven't earned them.

On the other hand, I don't get negative reinforcement either, so I don't feel like I'm performing badly.

How have other people communicated their need for positive reinforcement to their bosses?

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Feel free to roll back my edits if you don't think this reflects your original question, but I think this is more answerable/clearer. –  RSid Apr 10 '12 at 21:14
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A weekly/monthly one-on-one with your boss should give you the forum to discuss this. –  tehnyit Jun 22 '12 at 13:06
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4 Answers

It's frustrating having a boss who doesn't give either positive or negative feedback. My first boss after college was the same way and he made me very nervous because I literally had no idea what he thought.

I was too shy then to say anything, but I suggest the best thing you can do for yourself is to speak up and ask him if you are doing OK. I have seen people get fired for bad performance who thought they were doing OK because no one said anything until the day they got fired. So first make an appointment with him and discuss, what you are doing well, what needs improvement and create an improvement plan if need be. Finding out for sure if you are doing OK is far more important than getting positive reinforcement.

You have to own your own career. No one else will automatically give you feedback unless you ask for it. If you compete for an internal promotion and don't get selected, ask the hiring offical what you need to to do to be selected for the next one. It's painful to ask for honest feedback because people aren't going to tell you that you are perfect. But the only way to fix problems is to know they exist and asking to know indicates to your boss that you are serious about your career and want to improve beyond the entry level.

I don't believe that your boss has no time for positive feedback (It literally takes seconds to give it). What he more likely has is a tendency to not think feedback is important. You may not be able to change his basic personality and if so you may want to think about moving on after a year or two at this place and look for a boss who is more communicative. Look at his behavior with others. Does he give positive or negative reiforcement to them? He may be the type who expects good performance and will only say anything if you don't met his expectations. If this is the case, then you are probaly doing OK when you don't have him yelling at you.

One thing about the work world though is that very few bosses give lots of positive reinforcement. So if all you want is postive feedback be prepared to be disappointed. Positive feedback is nice and we all like it, but honestly it doesn't help you improve and grow much, so the other, more painful kind is a far better thing to be looking for especially early in your career.

Since you own your career and you want lots of positive feedback, you can ask for it directly, you can ask others to tell your boss when they tell you they did well (the positive reinforcement is actually better to send to your boss to improve his impression of you) or you can keep track of your progress yourself and become internally motivitated to improve without waiting for praise.

You can also do things that will get you noticed in a positive way. Make a bargain with yourself that you will be so good that the boss will have to acknowledge it. That means meeting deadlines, having fewer bugs, getting domain knowledge and going one step beyond your peers to get the job done. Once you become known as the go-to person, the people coming to you for advice or help will fulfill your need for postive reinforcement even if they don't specifically tell you what a wonderful fellow you are. Knowing that they have professional respect for you and that you are trusted to do the hard stuff and to advise others is a positive. But you don't get there easily, or early in your career, you have to build your performance up to that and you do it by seeking out the negative reinfocrement so that you can pull your performance up to the highest level. Once you know you are performing at that level, the need for nice words from others is diminished because you are confident in your own talents and abilities.

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Very solid. I would add that you should talk about what you like about the job, and that the reason you want to get some feedback is because you want to improve. If the manager can't think of anything off the top of their head, come with some ideas on things you'd like to take initiative to improve and focus on - they are sure to give you feedback on whether or not they think those things are important for the success of the startup, which will give you valuable information. The fact that you're taking the initiative to improve yourself in the first place will speak volumes. –  jefflunt Apr 11 '12 at 0:28
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I would avoid asking general question of your overall performance outside a formal review, it will just make you sound insecure. Rather ask for feedback on specific tasks you performed..

Hay, Boss, any comments on the new splash page I put together for you? Any Changes?

This way is doesn't look like you are fishing for compliments, but that you are just insuring that everything is up to his standard for his benefit

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I think you want to differentiate between actively soliciting feedback about particular aspects of your job performance about which you are uncertain and simply soliciting positive reinforcement.

Requesting feedback

Asking for an assessment periodically about areas of performance you may be concerned about is a great idea. If you're worried that you are behind schedule frequently, even if everyone else is too, it's great to get time with your boss and ask if he's upset about this.

It's similarly OK to request a sit down to talk about growth opportunities and whether you are ready for them and/or what your gaps may be in terms of growing as an employee.

In all these cases, the key is that you are asking for an honest assessment with the purpose of improvement. It may be that you are simply awesome and the boss will tell you so, but it opens the door as well to points for improvement.

Positive Reinforcement

A fair point - we all need it. When looking abstractly at motivation and management - it's pretty clear - EVERYONE does better with positive reinforcement. And there's never really enough.

Trick is - your manager does have to be even handed. Praising one employee when all are doing the same level of quality work is favoritism and it isn't fair. At best, him praising one person and ignoring others will be demotivating to the rest, at worst, it's grounds for a lawsuit.

So, in an environment where praise is rare and highly prized, it's going to have to be rare and highly prized for everyone. There are bosses in the world who's praise is hard to earn.

Look for little things

Being someone who thrives on positive reinforcement too, I found sanity in looking for the little things - the obvious respect of my peers (whether or not anyone says anything, you can see it in their eyes), knowing I can help someone with a hard question, being able to measure and see improvements in my own performance over time, knowing on my own that I've been honest and respectful with others - it all adds up to a good days work and I can force myself to realize that on a daily basis. Also - I look for how other opportunities may be a sign of good things - suggestions for interesting training classes, interesting assignments, more responsibility - are all signs you are a trusted member of the team.

Asking for Feedback

Every boss is different, every company is different. A weekly or biweekly meeting to touch base is widely considered a good thing, but may not always be part of the culture. A big status check and feedback session every 6 months is a pretty uniform standard in American knowledge working careers. But no matter how you solicit it, how it's presented has a lot do with your boss as well as the corporate climate.

Be open to how this rolls. Ask your boss about a frequency guideline - how often should you check in, how often is annoying? What are some indicators of success that aren't verbal?

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Take charge of it professionally.

Schedule meetings with your boss weekly. Make that fixed.

Ask each time:

  • What am I doing well ?
  • What am I not doing well ?
  • What can I improve on ?
  • What should I do less off ?
  • What should I stop doing ?
  • What should I do more off ?
  • What should I start doing ?

2 mins. per question = 15 mins. investment. Can be done over lunch.

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The fixed list of questions is a good suggestion, but I think weekly is too often. Most peoples' performance/work habits don't change too much in one week, so this meeting could get very repetitive with lots of "same as last week" answers. Maybe monthly would be better. –  Jefferson Aug 1 '12 at 13:32
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