Praising the Praises of Praise
Face it, everyone likes to receive praise. But do we like to give it? Most people do not, or at least it seems as if they do not like giving compliments because they seldom give them. Demanding bosses seldom give out compliments. They demand superior work that constantly improves as if the demand itself will cause the improvement. It’s like driving a car faster and faster as if it could always accelerate more just by pressing harder on the gas peddle.
Why We Do Not Praise Others
We are drawn to the negative side of observations. Remember the “what is wrong or missing in this picture” games you might have played when you were a kid? We are often trained to see what it below par or missing. We also think that to improve, we have to define what is lacking. These mindsets lead to spotting flaws in people or their work. Flaws are so easy to see sometimes, while improvements and effectiveness are harder to spot. You have to work at noticing them. We will notice bad service and delays in delivery of our food at a restaurant, but do we compliment good service (with a big tip)?
Some do not give compliments or praise to staff and coworkers because the think it might detract from their authority or leadership. They might think that complimenting coworkers will make the workers think they can rest on that input and stop moving forward. They may see everything as a competition (and some environments are like that). If others are praised, it detracts from them. It is exactly the opposite on all fronts.
Sometimes it may be as simple as thinking that staff already know that we appreciate them. We have said it before, so why say more? Don’t want to overdo it, do we? Or maybe we just do not know how to give a compliment, or how to start a conversation like that.
Why We Should Praise Others More Often
Encouragement motivates people to actually work harder. Someone noticing and addressing superior work and efforts energizes coworkers. They activate even more reserves to move even faster, make more quality choices, and deliver earlier.
Encouragement lets workers know that they are on their game. It reinforces great behavior. It defines exact achievements and why they are important. It locks in the message that you are trying to deliver to your team and others that quality matters, deadlines are to be met, and that planning aids production.
Compliments convey respect. When you praise others, they get the signal that you are paying attention, are not so self-centered—that you appreciate their devotion and respect them as a person. It builds trust via reinforcing shared goals, characteristics, and perspectives.
How to Praise Others
Start small. It does not have to be some grand achievement to open the door to a compliment. It can be the small things, like how the person phrased a statement. When someone gives corrective feedback to another without demeaning them, that is praiseworthy. When someone offers help to another to get the job done, then it is praiseworthy. When someone passes on assistance via quick instruction, that might deserve some applause.
Don’t praise ordinary performance. In a desire to praise, do not start admiring average work. People are expected to do their jobs and to do them well. Tributes should not be given when people are just doing their work. Praise is reserved for someone who goes above or beyond, or when someone improves or displays positive traits that you want to reinforce.
Be timely. Praise should be delivered at the time of the event, or when you notice it, or very soon after. Don’t let the opportunity pass. I have done this so many times. I delay or forget to offer a compliment and then time slips away and it never happens. Oh how I wish I had grabbed the opening and offered praise. Since consistent top behavior is often sporadic in people, I have missed opportunities that faded away.
Be direct. Pull the person aside and deliver a direct commendation and appreciation for their efforts. Get to the point and tell them that you appreciate their efforts. Focus the conversation on just this message. They did a superior job and you noticed.
Praise in public and/or private. Your environment will define the call on this one. Sometimes it is good to praise someone in a group. Receiving accolades in an environment where others can hear reinforces the appreciation. I strive to provide positive feedback in larger groups of people because it also reinforces the message of what is appreciated. But sometimes it might deflate others. If you are stingy with your compliments, others might think that they have done great work without receiving recognition and scowl. You could mix a brief public thank you with a private, more detailed conversation later.
Be specific. Never just say, “Frank, you are doing a good job. Keep up the good work.” If Frank is unable to connect to the exact effort he gave that generated the praise, then the accolades have less impact. Frank may have just goofed off for the entire morning and surfed the web. He will think you are out of touch and that he can glide for days. Dive into the exact things you appreciate. For example, say, “Frank, when you delivered early on the Thompson project, the client was impressed and so was I. Thank you for going the extra mile.” Frank will hear this message: early delivery is great, the client was happy, the boss noticed and appreciated it.
Make it personal. Start by saying the person’s name. Give them no room for not thinking you are talking about them. Do this when you are in a crowd or alone with them. Always start by using their name. Make eye contact. Most people will shy away when you give a compliment. Look the person directly in the eye. Stop and say something that makes them look at you. I usually use a question like, “Do you realize how effective that was?” By asking a question, they will tend to look at you in response. Maintain that eye contact.
Make it stand alone. Do not use praise as an introduction to a discussion on improvement. Do not give a compliment and then lead right into a correcting conversation. Do not tack on “and we can do even better – right?” at the end. Do not tell someone they achieved a great thing with this, but need to work on that. A mixed message like this will have them walking away focusing on the reproof and not on the praise.
Be honest and real. Just like making eye contact is crucial, delivering a heartfelt compliment is also. It has to be real. Contrived admiration is very thin and most folks will realize that you don’t really mean it. The praise should honestly address the efforts of the person that resulted in very positive outcomes. Include words like “really” and “obvious,” as in “Pam, I really appreciate your planning on the new project. It is obvious to everyone that you save us time and money.”
Don’t overdo it. Don’t gush over someone or draw out the compliment too long, especially in public. Others will be annoyed. Don’t start passing out too many uplifting appreciations. That will water them all down. I have received compliments with wording that exceeds the accomplishment. Scale the compliment to the achievement. If someone does a really outstanding job, then possibly a gift card or lunch might be appropriate.
Avoid comedic compliments. Telling someone, “You didn’t screw it up as much as I thought you would” is not a compliment. Avoid making a compliment a joke. Do not poke at someone’s failings as part of praise. How would you like to hear, “You did a pretty good job, considering that you had no idea what you were doing.” The group may get a chuckle, but the person who was the butt of the joke does not take away any uplifting message.
Pass on compliments. When someone gives you a compliment in the form of your team doing a good job, pass it on. Let your team know that they did a good job and who told you that. Tack on a “rider” and tell them that you really are proud of their efforts and that you appreciate their output.
So if you have read all of this, make it a goal to give a compliment or praise to someone today and tomorrow. Start a healthy habit of looking for what is worthy of commendation and let people know that you are thankful for their labors.