Managing team members is more subjective today than ever. One of the reasons for this is the global marketplace and the fact that there are more generations in the workforce than ever. This means that a manager has to be an intelligent communicator with the ability to reach a diverse audience, often all at once. As with any management tip, the best approach always depends on the team, culture, and desired results.

Business leaders often like to use sports as a metaphor when they’re talking about team management and development. There are several legendary coaches who got the most out their star players and team by using negative rating styles. The stories about how they pushed top performers beyond their limits, and how those top performers credit them for pushing them further, offer food for thought. Oftentimes, pushing a person to greatness involves a certain amount of criticism.

For all of those great stories, though, there are other stories of the wreckage and carnage left in the wake of tough-minded coaches who used negativity and criticism as motivational tools. They pushed it too far, and it blew up and became demotivating. Some people respond to challenges, and others crumble under their weight. A positive approach and a negative approach can both work, but it varies from person to person. Let’s examine them both.

Positive Ratings

It goes without saying that people, in general, respond better to positivity than negativity. Positive rating management styles tend to lead to higher employee morale and engagement. Also, employees are known to work harder for a positive rather than a negative rater. Positive ratings can boost confidence as well. If the boss says, “You’re awesome and you’re doing an awesome job‑keep it up!” it could be just the affirmation that keeps an employee productive and engaged.

The drawback to the positive rating is that constantly offering praise can be seen as a weakness in management style. The employee does not take the remarks as seriously and doesn’t consider the feedback to be relevant. Constant positive rating softens the impact of the conversation and also diminishes the message. Employees may think, “I know, I’m awesome and I’m doing awesome. Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.”

Negative Ratings

Using a negative rating style may work if the comments are constructive and not personal. Employees can sometimes embrace negative ratings and use them to their advantage. Negative ratings can motivate some to try to prove themselves by turning those negative ratings into positive ones. Negative raters might say, “I feel like you are doing the minimum, and I want you to tap into your full potential. I need more from you.”

However, as stated earlier, negative ratings could have a counter-productive effect, especially if the employee feels that the rating in unfair, confusing, and without merit. Negative rates have to be careful because job retention is low these days, employee turnover is high, and there is 25% job growth predicted for 2015. In addition, social recruiting makes poaching and job searching easier than ever, and employees are generally more sensitive these days–which means you could be pushing top performers right out the door. Employees may think, “I can’t please this boss, maybe it’s time for me find something else.”

Developmental Conversations

Before choosing one style over the other, it’s important to have a developmental conversation with applicants during the interview process and with employees a few months after they’ve started working with you. It’s perfectly okay to ask candidates about their preferred management style. You can even ask situational questions about how they would handle performance issues, in order to determine which they prefer. And you should have conversations with your current employees to understand more about what motivates them and which style of management they prefer. You might be surprised by the number of employers who actually prefer negative ratings over positive ratings. Some know that they need to be pushed to reach their potential. In any case, learning about your employees’ preferences and considering your own natural tendencies will allow you to tailor your approach so that you can find the sweet spot between positivity and negativity.

Adina Miron


  • Avatar Clive M. says:

    Usually I can evaluate my work myself. When the evaluation of my boss coincides with mine, I see that he or she follows my progress. If the evaluation is not exact or fair, I simply don’t pay attention to it.

  • Avatar Kaitlyn Summers says:

    Negative ratings help me to keep fit. Really, I can do my best only when I am under pressure. Otherwise I relax and do nothing by myself. Why try hard if everything is okay? I’d rather wait until a situation gets really bad and then I’ll get to work.

  • Avatar Jocelyn S. says:

    On my previous job, I had to manage people who were much older than me. Before I earned their respect, all my attempts to give either positive or negative evaluation were not taken seriously. All I could do was developmental conversations, which really helped.

  • Avatar Chris aka new_resource says:

    I have to admit, I love positive ratings but if I’m being honest I learn more from the negative or critical ratings. I think its important to remember that negative does not have to be nasty, unprofessional or personal – it can be constructive.

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