Are we guilty in radio of highlighting the negatives instead of the positives?


We’ve all been there: You’re given a task. You work your tail off. 99% of it, you nail. But your boss is only interested in pointing out the 1% you didn’t.

So often, the emphasis is not on what we do well, but what we do wrong. It happens across all industries, but in the sometimes cut-throat world of radio, it’s particularly prevalent.

Canadian-based leadership coach Paul Kaye tells the story of an experienced and successful morning radio host who suddenly quit his job when a new manager came on board.

This announcer had always been receptive to feedback and willing to collaborate with others.

But Kaye says that when the new manager joined the station, the first thing he did was assert his control, proudly proclaiming “I’m a perfectionist, so you’ll never achieve a 10 out of 10 show with me.”

The announcer walked.

Kaye says it’s not uncommon for managers to focus on providing only negative feedback. He argues that it’s easier to point out what isn’t working than it is to acknowledge what is.

“Positive feedback reinforces the importance of building on our strengths, not on fixing our weaknesses,” he says. “We are all receptive to feedback that doesn’t cause us to doubt ourselves and develop insecurities.”

Personally, I am a fan of positive affirmation in the workplace. And by that, I don’t mean everybody joining hands and singing Kumbaya. You don’t have to lay it on with a trowel.

Quite simply, if you see or hear something good, you acknowledge it. If somebody has put in the hard yards, you show that you appreciate it.

Conversely, there is also a place for negative feedback in radio, as long as it is delivered in a constructive way. It’s nothing personal. Finding a balance is the tricky part.

Once upon a time, I was so young and so keen to work in radio, I would have happily offered to mop the floor and make the coffee just to get a foot in the door.

At one station, I recall staying back late one night, completely snowed under, struggling under the weight of the gazillion tasks I still had to complete.

I remember one of the sales reps shooting me a sympathetic look as she packed up and headed home for the night.

Suddenly, it was dark outside and I was the only person left in the building.

I didn’t want pity or platitudes. But oh, what a difference it would have made if somebody had simply said “Hang in there. You’re doing a great job!”

By 1994, I was in my mid-twenties, working the Breakfast news back-up shift at Gold 104.3, back in the days when the station was located in Carlton, just a stone’s throw from Lygon Street, Melbourne’s Little Italy precinct.

It was the morning of the FIFA World Cup final. Channel Nine’s Tony Jones – who was then presenting Breakfast sport at Gold – sent me off to Lygon Street, which was heaving with hundreds of raucous Italian football fans.

My instructions were to get vox pops and file a report.

Let me just start by saying it was a horrible morning. Picture it: 5.30 am. Freezing cold. Rain coming down sideways in sheets.

Before I’d even tottered around the corner in my ridiculously impractical high heels, I was already drenched to the bone.

My recording gear didn’t work, I completely lost my bearings, I twisted my ankle and to top it all off, a bunch of spirited young blokes decided on the spur of the moment to wrap me up in an Italian flag.

I found the nearest phone box and – fingers all but frozen – I swore under my breath as, with gritted teeth, I punched in the newsroom number to file my report.

Tony recorded it and was silent for a couple of seconds afterwards.

Oh shit, I thought. What did I do wrong??

 To this day I will never forget what he said next:

“Excellent, Sarah. EXCELLENT! That’s the best report you’ve ever done.”

I might have looked like a pitiful drowned rat, but I was so happy I was fit to burst. That one piece of positive feedback made my day.

Remembering how good it felt, I’ve tried to make a point of paying it forward ever since.

Having gone on to hold down management roles both in radio and television, I have always endeavoured to offer positive feedback whenever it is warranted.

Too much negative feedback can lead to stress and anxiety. But would you rather a manager tell you what you want to hear, or what you need to hear?

Have you asked for constructive criticism, only to end up in the foetal position on the floor when that feedback wasn’t quite what you were expecting?

Sometimes the truth is a bitter pill to swallow, but how else do we progress?

With today’s radio industry full of multi-tasking, and I worry about the weight of responsibility and potential burnout among young people who find themselves juggling any number of roles at once.

So if you see or hear someone doing something you think is great, tell them.

You don’t need a bunch of consultants to figure out it doesn’t cost a cent. And, like me, it’s an acknowledgement they may well carry with them for the rest of their life.

*Sarah Patterson is a former WIN Television Bureau Chief and former News Director at Air News.

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Leroy Brown
1 Jun 2024 - 9:26 am

Brilliant article… Leaders! Print this out and hang it on your wall… it’s a great insight into what people need!



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