Ask the expert: Giving specific and timely feedback to reinforce positive behaviors

Nurse Leader Insider, March 19, 2012

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This week, Patty Kubus, RN, MBA, PhD, advises on ways to structure feedback so as to reinforce positive actions and behaviors among nurses.

Q. How can I ensure that I am providing good feedback to my nurses?

A. Good feedback needs to be specific as opposed to general in order to reinforce behavior or effect a change. For example, general "feedback" might be, "Good job helping with that emergency earlier." That type of comment is nice, but it doesn't include the elements of feedback that make it specific. Good feedback might sound like this, "Thanks for helping with that precipitous delivery earlier when three of the staff were already tied up with that stat c-section. You really did a great job calling the resident, and then helping Theresa by opening up the delivery kit and then taking care of the baby after the delivery and talking to the dad. I could tell Theresa felt so much more confident and relaxed by being able to focus just on the delivery."

The example above has the following:

  • A situation: the floor was very busy and short-handed
  • An action: she made the call, took care of the baby, talked to dad
  • An effect: Theresa was more confident and relaxed and focused because you were there and handling other things

This type of feedback is likely to reinforce her behavior to repeat it in the future. It also shows that the nurse was meeting your expectations on how you treat her colleagues: in a pleasant, helpful, supportive manner that is typical of a well functioning team.

Feedback also needs to be timely. Feedback is most effective when it occurs as close to the event as possible. As time flies by, our memories fade and feedback loses its power. Think about the example earlier. If this feedback had been given to the OB nurse three weeks after the event, or even worse, months later at an appraisal discussion, it would have been meaningless and would not have had much motivating horsepower to reinforce her behavior. Always give feedback as close to the event as you can if you want to get the most charge out of it.

To read more expert advice, click here.

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