The Do’s and Don’ts of Praise
There are many circumstances when offering praise, in a workplace setting, is appropriate. Likewise, there are many benefits to doing so. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and helping to create a positive and supportive culture in your company benefits you in the long run. Whether you need to thank a co-worker for their assistance, or show appreciation for team members you led on a specific project, offering praise isn’t just the boss’s job.
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But, saying “good job!” isn’t as easy as it might seem. When done well, appreciation can motivate, focus, and encourage. But, if done poorly, praise can actually hurt rather than help.
Here are a few suggestions.
1. It has to be genuine.
You know that expressing appreciation is important, but trying too hard to find opportunities to gush might backfire if the praise you offer is viewed as inauthentic. It could make the recipient of the kind words feel small, like a child being given a pat on the head, and it will take away from the weight of your praise in the future if it seems to be something you do too easily or often. Instead, wait until you genuinely feel appreciative. Wait until someone has really impressed you. When you are sincerely feeling inspired to say thank you, the appropriate words of praise will come to you more naturally, and your words will carry more weight. Both sincerity and disingenuousness are extremely transparent. Be careful.
2. Never praise one to chastise the rest.
One team member has stood out: she has worked extra hard, demonstrated impressive talent, creativity, flexibility, etc., and you wish this person were the rule rather than the exception. But praising an individual in front of the rest, when your motivation is to show others what you wish you were seeing from them, will have more negative consequences than positive ones. No one will appreciate your comments, probably not even the person you’re commending, and it certainly won’t motivate anyone to do anything different – except maybe try to avoid you.
3. Be specific.
This is probably the most important point to keep in mind. It could make or break the experience for the individual you’re trying to commend. Simply saying “good job” is kind of empty. When offering praise, be specific and clear. Give a detailed explanation of what the person did well, and follow up by explaining how exactly their work will benefit the project, client, or even the company at large. After you’ve expressed the specifics, finish up by offering a more overarching comment about the important role the person plays in the company both now and in the future. Here are some examples.
Nothing is worse than thinking you’re being paid a compliment only to discover that actually you’ve been handed a sugar-coated insult. There are times to offer corrections and times to praise. The two do not mix well. When offering praise, stay positive 100 percent of the time. Don’t mix in a tip for the future, no matter how small you think it might be. This really takes away from the power of your commendation in a big way.
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Gina Belli works as a teacher, freelance writer, and educational consultant, and lives in her beloved home state, Connecticut. She likes to write about education, work-life balance, and the economy. Given her arresting capacity to over-analyze anything interpersonal, her writing often tends to focus on some of the more emotional aspects of workplace connections and disconnections, as they relate to partnerships and teams, personality and communication styles, and leadership. In her free time, she likes to putter around her renovated one-room schoolhouse home, take walks in the woods, and eat as much guacamole as she can get her hands on.