It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that people generally respond positively to praise. Whether it is in the workplace or our personal lives, we all appreciate recognition. There’s a veritable mountain of research, in fact, telling us that the absence of appreciation is the most common reason cited for people leaving their jobs. A kind word of genuine praise from a friend or coworker can make your day. It also makes you look at the person doing the praising in a more positive light.
Verbally recognizing our children’s accomplishments gives them confidence. Telling employees how good a job they’ve done motivates them to do it again. Acknowledging a friend’s success reinforces your relationship. Letting coworker’s know how much you appreciate their efforts strengthens a team. The list is endless. Given how truly powerful praise is, though, the real surprise is how rarely we hear it. A lot of times, we assume that people don’t want to hear it, or that it’s unnecessary. Sometimes, tragically, we fear that people may judge us as being insincere. But mostly, we are simply too often so caught up with our own issues that we don’t even notice the small successes and accomplishments of those around us.
Using genuine praise is a powerful way to strengthen relationships. To be effective, there is one key rule to follow – praise the specific action, not the person. It is a subtle difference, but a very important one. For example, instead of saying, “Susan, you are incredibly smart,” say “Susan, that was an incredibly smart decision…” What’s the difference? The first one is a value judgment about Susan herself. The second is a comment on her action. Susan is likely willing to agree that her decision is a smart one, and therefore accept praise about it. But it is very possible (and more common than you might think) that Susan does not see herself as a smart person. If this is the case, she will be less likely to give credibility or sincerity to your comment.