STOP READING THIS ARTICLE …. for just one minute and think back to when a colleague, friend or family member took the time to observe something you did and praised you. Perhaps the scenario goes back a long time in your life, perhaps it was more recent.
What was that situation? What did they say – do you remember the actual words? What was the effect on you? Did it change your performance at work or in life?
How are you feeling right now? My guess is that no matter how your day is going you will be feeling more positive, energised and even up-lifted by the memory of that experience.
The truth is that praise when effectively delivered can be THE most powerful long-term motivator. Praise gives people the feeling that:
- you empathise with them
- what they do is valued
- you have faith in their ability to make progress
- their work is valuable
But praise is both a skill and a habit. It needs to be delivered effectively with descriptive precision and genuine emotion. Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Catch people doing things right
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of only giving feedback when things have gone wrong. In reality people get more right than they do wrong in the work place. Make a point of noticing when people do things right like hitting sales targets, dealing with an angry customer going the extra mile or hitting deadlines.
Give praise for effort as much as for output
Professor of Psychology at Stanford University Carole Dweck found in a series of studies that people who are praised just output alone develop a ‘Fixed Mindset’ which actually limits their growth and makes them averse to risk. On the other hand praising people for effort and input gives them a ‘Growth Mindset’ where they believe their success is based on hard work and learning and makes them strive to be even better.
Give feedback as close to the event as possible
You don’t have to wait for an appraisal or meeting. It’s easy to overlook good work or extra effort, so make it a habit to praise regularly. Moreover, if someone has done something well and you’ve not picked up on it straight away that person could become frustrated and not repeat the behaviour.
Be clear and be sincere
The best praise is sincere and specific. Tell the person exactly why you’re praising them. Instead of ‘Thanks for the report’. Consider;
‘Sally, I really appreciated the detailed report that you gave me, it allowed me to make an immediate decision’.
The tone of your voice can communicate as much (if not more) than the words you choose. Eye contact is also important to communicate sincerity and ensure both parties are focused on the message. Also doing two things at once will weaken your message, so stop what you’re doing and look at the person you’re speaking to.
Focus on behaviours
It’s important to focus on the behaviours that are helping the achievement. Talk about the behaviour not the person. Praise is not just about making people feel good; it’s about helping them creating an internal picture of what ‘great’ looks like and using it to drive future behaviour.
What NOT to do when praising someone
It is amazing how many people dilute the effect of powerful praise by putting a sting in its tail ‘Great piece of work on that project plan but remember to watch your punctuation’.
THIS DOES NOT WORK! The recipient simply leaves with the corrective action ringing in their ears – a bit like a lover being told ‘I think you are beautiful but I don’t like the way you dress’ their heart has been uplifted only to be crushed almost instantaneously. Therefore RESIST the temptation to qualify the praise in any way. Just say the words, allow them to be heard and move on.
Secondly, since praise is all about emotional uplift which leads to greater commitment and engagement the last thing you want to do is send praise by email – at least not initially. Of course, people may be flattered to receive a praising email. But compare this to the life-long lasting effect of a senior manager who looks you straight in the eye and tells you they have noticed how hard you have worked to complete a difficult project or win over a tough customer.
Yes, formal confirmation of the praise afterwards is motivating, particularly for people who like to display such compliments on wall plaques. But nothing beats the emotional power of face-to-face human contact.
THE PRAISE HABIT – YOUR CHALLENGE
Now that we have a few principles in place it’s time to practice pure praising and watch the effects on individuals and teams. Theory is not enough – actual skill-building practice is needed – both to re-tune yourself to look for opportunities to praise and then actually give it in a powerful way.
So here is my challenge. Over the next four weeks find two opportunities per day, every day to give praise. This could be to your employees or friends or family – or complete strangers. In fact starting with strangers gives you a good training ground before you incorporate it into the way you manage people. Find someone who has done something that has exceeded your expectations – maybe it was the way they gave you customer service. Tell them what they did and how it made you feel – and watch their reaction. Initially they may be a bit surprised or embarrassed but wait a few seconds more and watch them almost physically grow and glow.
And here is the reward for yourself. Notice how you now regard yourself – improved self-dignity, pride and well-being, a more positive outlook on people and their contributions?
In fact, praise might transform yourself as much as those that receive it from you – try it and feel its power.