Praise vs. Feedback

Supervisor-mentors draw upon many skills in beginning to offer feedback and evaluation.  Among them are praise and feedback.  In this section we look more closely at these two ways of responding, and draw distinctions between them.  Experience shows that many supervisors fail to avail themselves of all the responses they could use in supervision, and instead just give their interns a lot of general praise.  This can be problematic, and so we focus here on the potential downsides of an exclusive use of praise.


Praise is a laudatory comment made about someone that is directed toward a personal attribute, i.e., toward them as a person.  It can be specific or general.  It can come in negative form (which might be called damnation) when someone is judged negatively.

Feedback is a statement about the nature of what someone did.  It is directed toward performance rather than attribute.  It, too, can be specific or general.  It can be either positive or negative.

Subject Praise Feedback
Math You’re a math genius; you must have inherited that gene from your mother. You scored a 98 on that math quiz!  How did you study for it?
Pastoral care You were great with Mrs. Jones.  You really have a pastor’s heart.  I can tell that you made Mrs. Jones feel calmer by your prayer because she got less agitated and was able to say “Amen” with you at the end.
Preaching (negative) Some of us are cut out to be extemporaneous preachers; some are not.  Maybe you’re just not. (negative) You lost your way without your notes at the point when you were trying to describe that painting for us.  Then you fumbled twice connecting the painting back to the Scripture lesson.


When you respond with praise, you are responding to the identity or essence of the person.  Doing so implies that a person’s gifts are either there or not, forever.  In contrast, feedback tends to focus on what a person did—in the moment of being observed, and also leading up to it.  Feedback often makes reference to the effort or strategy or choices made, rather than the giftedness, which went into the performance.  It also thereby points to what a person could do differently in the future.

Many of us have learned that praise does three things:  We are told that it motivates people to do better, supplies confidence to those who lack it, and helps people identify what they are good at.  (In the ministry, praising people for their gifts is often assumed to help them identify those gifts.)  Some ministers may believe that praise is the way they show God’s unconditional love for others.  Feedback often seems “cold” or “sterile” in contrast, given how it focuses on the deed and not the doer.  Consider, however, that when it comes to damnation, we tell ourselves to “hate the sin, not the sinner.”  Why, then, do we persist in praising the gifted one and not the gift itself?




Question for reflection: When you praise other people, what are you hoping to achieve by your praise?  Do you in fact achieve it?


Next: Mindset Matters