Most of us would agree that praise is a positive thing. It’s free motivation – an extremely powerful and valuable form of recognition – with a positive trickle-down effect. Why wouldn’t you want to make your team members feel good about their work while simultaneously boosting their motivation and performance? However, it turns out that people give (or hear) meaningful praise less often than they think. General comments like “Good job!” or “Nice work!” don’t quite fit the bill. The most meaningful (and long-lasting) praise goes well beyond basic compliments.
Praise – when practiced thoughtfully and in the long-term – can change the fabric of your day-to-day operations. If you’re looking for guidance, or if you have doubts about the effectiveness of praise, check out our three pillars for meaningful praise – frequency, specificity, and authenticity.
If praise is a rare occurrence on your team, or if people feel like they are pulling teeth to get any sort of positive assurance, that probably means that most of the team is only hearing from you when you give constructive or negative feedback. There is absolutely a time and place for correction, but an imbalance can lead to feelings of unappreciation and inadequacy – possibly even poor performance. Begin with a ratio of five to one for praise and correction.
It’s not difficult to give praise. It doesn’t require a lot of time or money, so why hold back? When you witness something positive, let that person know! Don’t limit it to your team either. Say it to the barista at your favorite coffee shop, your child’s teacher, or any of your peers. Challenge yourself to give praise daily. Start with finding one to two things to praise per day, then move up to five, or more.
Praise should be frequent, but even more important, it should be specific. That’s because empty compliments given without context become white noise – meaningless and inauthentic. They’re less valuable. The person on the receiving end of your praise should never leave the exchange wondering what they did well.
If you can connect the outcome of an event to a specific strength the person has, there’s also a better chance of motivating and energizing them. When given frequently, this kind of praise establishes the foundation for an environment where feedback is normal and encouraged. This means that when the time comes for a discussion about how things could be better, you will have colleagues who are open, engaged, and know you truly care.
While praise should be frequent, don’t ever allow it to become mindless. Consider your words and the meaning behind them. Find what is meaningful for you in what the person did. Focus on that; it will be authentic and specific. There is power in the details!
Have you ever received a disingenuous compliment? People tend to have an innate sense for when someone is being insincere, however well-meant their intentions might be. If you make a habit of forced or false praise, your team won’t believe future praise even if it comes from a truthful place. Pleasantry and niceness for niceness’ sake is very much a part of our everyday lives, but there’s no place for it in a meaningful exchange. If you are having trouble with an authentic compliment, look for connections between what you’ve observed and the greater mission or strategy of the team or organization.
Consider the last time you received meaningful praise. Regardless of whether it was yesterday or last year, it’s probably a moment you remember vividly. For me, I recall a time when I was working with someone who had really been stretching and growing, but just wasn’t seeing the impact of that growth. One day, while we were waiting in line for coffee, I told them what I saw and just how much their work meant to the team. Their eyes welled up and after a deep breath they asked, “Really?” I said, “Yes, really!” After that, their demeanor changed completely and their energy level sky-rocketed. (And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the caffeine!)
The interaction reminded me of a quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” At the moment, I had no idea the impact I was going to make by speaking up, but I’m so glad I took the opportunity in line that day to share what had already been on my mind.