You’ve probably heard about the importance of giving praise whether you’re a parent at home, the supervisor at work, or both. Recognition can motivate people, but it also has the potential to backfire under certain conditions. Use these guidelines to make a wise choice in 3 common, but tricky, situations.
Consider Privacy Preferences
1. Defuse resentments. Studies show that we tend to become envious when we overhear others being praised in our presence. This is especially true when we regard the one being praised as similar to ourselves. Praise in private.
2. Offer group praise. It’s sometimes okay to give praise in public, especially when you’re recognizing a team effort. Congratulate everyone for pulling together and getting the job done.
3. Take an indirect route. Try praising someone by sharing the compliment with someone else when you know you’re being overheard or you can count on it being passed along. This is one time when it’s okay to be a little sneaky. Second-hand praise somehow sounds more sincere and can brighten up someone’s day.
4. Consider the individual. You probably know people who love to be in the spotlight and others who prefer to be in the shadows. Take whatever approach works best for each individual. Ask their preference if you’re unsure.
Focus on Effort Rather Than Results
1. Avoid excessive pressure. If a child feels like their worth is based on getting good grades, they may become fearful of difficult projects that could lower their grade point average. Keep competition from going too far.
2. Encourage innovation. Be enthusiastic about new ideas regardless of whether they pan out. A string of failures may pave the way for ultimate success.
3. Value learning. Demonstrate that you love personal development for its own sake. Read for pleasure and practice foreign languages just for the fun of it. If you model this, your children will most likely follow suit.
4. Promote cooperation. Use praise to encourage people to contribute to the greater good. Different employees will excel in a range of roles.
5. Take substantive action. Back up your words with tangible actions. Reward the employee who frequently makes valuable suggestions with an expensive training course or a bigger year-end bonus.
Pay Attention Rather Than Making Judgments
1. Make time for play. Constant feedback, even when it’s positive, can make people feel like they need a break from being judged. Let yourself go on for 10 minutes in the break room discussing a new movie without any references to office performance.
2. Be specific. Precision makes your praise more meaningful. Tell a caterer that you’re impressed by how they served every course on time and kept all the special orders straight.
3. Simplify the process. Most people love unconditional praise, so generate more of it. Put forms on your website where customers can let your employees know when they were helpful.
4. Let it stand alone. The term “criticism sandwich” is when you throw in a generic positive comment before and after the criticism. It has become so common that it can cause cringing. Whenever possible, let your praise be the only thing on the agenda and save the less flattering comments for another time.
5. Share your feelings. Praise has more impact when it’s personal. Take the opportunity to let people know the impact they have on your life and the regard you feel for them. Maybe you get to work on time and support your family because your mechanic keeps your old car running smoothly. Tell him that.
When it comes to praise, the quality matters as much as the quantity. Let sincerity, kindness, and skill guide your words. Others will sense your genuine approval and team spirit will grow.