It seems weird, but giving praise is difficult for many people.
For some, it seems nearly impossible to give praise or credit to others.
It’s even the case in business settings. I’ve seen some business leaders, entrepreneurs and managers struggle to tell someone they’ve done a good job. Maybe you’ve experienced it at work or even with family and friends. I know some struggle getting praise from their parents.
Praise and positive feedback are important aspects in life. But it’s challenging because the wrong type of praise can lead to negative results for the recipient and for the giver.
Two Types of People
There are two types of people when it comes to praise. And the frustrating thing is that our tendency is to give praise in the opposite way each type of person needs it.
In a study, it was found that people fell pretty much into segments of those with low and high self-esteem. In studies, people with low self-esteem seemed to get more praise when they did something good. Those with high self-esteem didn’t seem to get as much praise.
That makes sense. We try to bring those that need encouragement up while not giving as much to those that seem to already have a good feeling about themselves.
It turns out that what we’re doing is backwards. In fact, those with lower self-esteem that receive excessive praise turn off their motivation. They feel that expectations have been increased for their future work and that makes them anxious.
And it’s even more strange seeing that those with good self-esteem get better when they hear more excessive praise. It’s like they feed off the praise and want to seek more of it and it builds on itself.
Another critical aspect of praise is making sure that the praise is based on the process more than the result. Research has found that when praise is attached to effort it is more effective at motivation people to improve.
For example, telling someone that they have a natural gift for something may seem like a good idea, but it can give that person a feeling like they have a gift and that it’s a fixed gift. They might get by on natural ability especially if they really believe they have an extraordinary gift. But they likely won’t get better because just about anything in life requires effort and practice.
So telling someone that they did a good job and focusing on their effort and ability to figure out a process is constructive. An example is a situation where two kids take a test. They both do well. The first kid hears praise that they did a great job on the test and that they must be really smart. They get a fixed view that they must naturally have the ability to do well on exams. The other kid hears praise that they did great, but more of the focus is on their effort in studying. They must have really found a good formula for studying and preparing.
The first kid might have confidence in test taking in the future. They have a belief. The second kid’s confidence, however, comes from their preparation. They feel that if they put in the effort they can do well.
When Not To Praise
Studies have found that when someone likes something they don’t need an excessive amount of praise. From a manager’s perspective it’s good to figure out if your team members like something. You can give praise on occasion to recognize their work, but don’t go overboard. Doing so can change the motivation of the person and going forward they’ll need the praise continually or they’ll lose interest.
Also be careful to compare someone’s achievements to others. This type of praise can backfire. It’s easy for someone to lose motivation unless they constantly find someone to compare themselves too. And once they reach a certain level they can slip into complacency. And they also have tendencies for being poor losers and in work settings it can lead to unhealthy culture.
The way to praise instead is to focus on mastery praise. The person looks internally at their achievements. They look at what they control and how they compare against themselves. Could they have done better? Can they find a better way to perform a task? It’s all about what they control and not the results of others.
Some Final Tips On Praise
A few final tips are to be specific with your praise. The more concrete you are with praise the more the recipient can learn what they’re doing well, continue to do it and look for improvement.
Don’t give praise for the sake of giving it. Look for real things to praise. You can learn to look for these things in just about any situation. But if you don’t already do it you’ll likely need to learn to be perceptive in this way.
Building on the last one is the idea that you can often find things that aren’t obvious to praise. People generally like hearing things, positive things, about themselves that they haven’t heard before. They’re more likely to pay attention and hear what you’re saying. The challenge, however, in a business setting is finding something specific to praise that is both unique and something that motivates the individual to succeed for themselves and for the business.
And one tip I like is to change the way you talk about others when they’re not around. Some have a tendency to be more negative when someone is not around. But flipping the way you talk about people when they’re not around can have some real benefits. And some people do this really well.
I remember when I was a kid playing basketball. My dad took me home after a game and he said that after the game the coach told him that he really liked the way I focused on the fundamentals of dribbling and protecting the ball and that it showed up in games. He felt confident me as the point guard.
That really stuck with me. I hadn’t thought of that part of my game that much. So it wasn’t obvious. It made me listen. The praise wasn’t excessive and ongoing. I liked dribbling and a little praise fed my motivation. It was effort-focused. And the coach told my dad, when I was not around, so it really stood out coming from my dad.
Good praise gets around and if you’re in the habit of praising others when they’re not around they’ll often hear the praise eventually and it can mean more secondhand than it can face-to-face with you.