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At best, praise is acknowledgement of a job well done. The positive parenting trend has encouraged caregivers to shower children with praise to boost their self-esteem. Unfortunately, sometimes this goes too far and becomes humorous. My personal favorite is praising excited (not scared) children for repeatedly obeying the laws of gravity by going down the slide.
The effects of praise don't change much as we grow older. Therefore, if you are leading a team and you rely on praise to motivate your group, you will likely reap similar results to those found in among children and adolescents.
- People who are praise-dependent, in other words, if they don't get praise they worry they did something wrong.
- People who expect praise, so if you don't give it you are seen as unnappreciative.
- Some people find praise embarrassing, and lavishing them with compliments will not serve as motivation.
Feedback is another thing altogether. Feedback is specific. Most important, feedback focuses on both the good and the bad, feedback examines why something worked or didn't work, and at it's very best feedback spurs creativity to fix problems.
"You did a great job" is an end in itself. "This worked well because ..." is much more useful. It takes the focus off of the person and puts it on the work. Other team members may benefit from feedback given to one because they learn from the discussion of what does and does not work.
"This did not work because..." is also discussion of the work, not the person. It invites brainstorming among team members to find improvements.
In The Psychology of Feedback Versus Praise and Why Your Words Matter, Paul Jun discusses the difference between acknowledging talent or skill, and acknowledging effort. Acknowledging innate ability falls into the category of praise.
However, acknowledging a person's effort, regardless of how successful the attempt was, serves to motivate the person to do better or continue to do well. "I appreciate how hard you worked on this" are motivating words.
Effective leaders acknowledge team member's hard work and effort, then offer specific feedback as a means of mapping out what needs to happen next. These two strategies together serve to motivate your team and give them useful information to keep improving.
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