We all know that compliments oil the wheels of social intercourse – a positive remark about a person’s appearance creates a warm glow that will permeate any interaction. But when did you last give somebody genuine praise?
Praise is different from compliments, because it focuses on behaviour and character traits, rather than on physical traits or specific abilities. If you tell your host that their signature dish was delicious, you’re giving a compliment; if you say “you’re such a good cook”, you’re giving praise. In a work context, if you tell your colleague who was giving an important presentation “you looked really smart”, you’re giving a compliment; if you say “your PowerPoint was really well put together”, you’re giving praise.
It should be obvious to most of us that giving praise where praise is due is an excellent way, especially in the world of work, of ensuring that people are positive and well-motivated. It ensures that they feel noticed and that their efforts are being endorsed. Given the positive benefits, it is surprising how many of us are miserly about giving praise and positive approbation.
Employees who feel that they are labouring away in a back room, unnoticed and unrecognised, are far more likely to quit and move on. If you want to retain valuable employees, or ensure that your team is working well together, remember that giving praise is an excellent way of boosting their commitment.
Think about using the following techniques:
• Focus on individuals
Signal out individuals who have made an outstanding contribution for special praise. While it’s always good to boost a team, generalised praise can feel bland and diffuse, whereas focusing on an individual who has done exceptional work is targeted and effective.
• Praise the unsung heroes
It’s easy to be bewitched by super-confident, articulate team-members, because they always seem to make an impact. But you should remind yourself that much of the most effective hard work may be in the hands of quiet, conscientious, super-efficient employees, who prefer to remain in the background. It’s always a good idea to recognise that they’re indispensable.
• Concentrate on the positive
Don’t get too bogged down in mistakes. Everybody makes errors, and of course these should be noted so that people can learn from their mistakes. But if your tendency is to focus much more on failures than successes, you will rapidly find that you’ve got a thoroughly de-motivated team on your hands. Try and offset criticisms with praise, and don’t dwell on the negatives.
• Try and be specific
A throwaway and generic “well done everyone” is easily forgettable. But if you focus in on one particular thing – “I thought the way you used the data and graphics in the presentation to make the argument was really persuasive”, it will be memorable.
• Pass praise on
If you’re dealing with a client or a member of the public who makes positive remarks about one of your employees or colleagues, be sure to tell them straight away, and always add your own endorsement. Praise should always be disseminated, not hoarded.
• Give credit where credit is due
All too often, an overworked or distracted manager or team leader ascribes success to the wrong person or overlooks the hours of background work that has gone into a brilliant presentation, sales pitch or client meeting. The person who fronts up a project, handles the presentation or interfaces with the client is often the recipient of all the praise, whereas their job would have been impossible without the support and hard work of colleagues. It is very important for managers and team leaders to be observant and pay attention, and to ensure that they understand exactly how the workload has been distributed amongst colleagues. If you find yourself the recipient of praise and feel that it would be better directed, or shared, elsewhere, it is always a good idea to point this out – hogging the limelight is never attractive and colleagues may be understandably resentful if they feel you’re elbowing them out.
• Never damn with faint praise
You should always give wholehearted praise, and if you really don’t feel that the situation warrants it, don’t give it. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a loaded comment like, “I’m quite surprised you managed to put a report together, considering you know so little about the topic.” If you give praise grudgingly, it will come across as a stifled criticism, and this kind of passive aggression has no role in the workplace.
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