The power of praise

Pretty much everyone I talk too is eager to tell me how challenging and uncertain the workplace will be this autumn. Many businesses will be looking at getting back into their physical offices, sales teams will be working hard generates hard found revenue, and HR teams will be under pressure to “reshape” their businesses for an uncertain future. 

However, the one thing we mustn’t forget is that talented people will still be doing amazing things, and it will be more important than ever to congratulate them for their great work.

In my experience, the act of praise is too rare, misplaced and underused. All too often we are keen to find faults in one another or to focus on where development needs are required, rather than to call out what we do really well and what our strengths are. Used well, praise is a powerful commodity and, considering it is free, can be of enormous value to every business.

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Case study – Simon and Judith

Simon was a highly skilled and experienced data scientist. He was brilliant at what he did and always delivered on time. In fact, he was so consistent in the world that he delivered that no one thought to congratulate him, even when he exceeded his very high standards. 

His line manager, Judith, was much more strategic than Simon and sometimes either ignored him or became frustrated with the detailed work that he produced. To her, success was a high level, directional piece of work that informed strategy, rather than answers specific questions – the polar opposite to Simon’s approach. So, whilst the work Simon was producing was, by any standards, of the highest quality, it never brought any praise from Judith. 

One day Simon was rushed of his feet and produce a piece of work for Judith that he thought was superficial and not sufficiently thought through. Judith loved it, was gushing with praise, and asked for more of the same. Obviously, Simon was pleased, but he was also surprised because he felt that the work wasn’t of his usual standards. 

Judith and Simon discussed their differences and were able to realise that what was excellent and praiseworthy in Simon’s terms was too detailed and tactical for Judith’s liking. As a result, Simon committed to be more specific when collecting the requirements for his work. In return, Judith promised to praise Simon when the work he produced was excellent on its own terms, even though it might not be quite Judith’s style.

Judith became more generous yet focused on her prize for Simon’s work. As a result, he became a more productive member of the team, was able to get better briefs for his projects, and became more confident that the work he could do and his contribution he made to the business was fully appreciated.

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Taking the time to congratulate our work colleagues is a good leadership habit. We should not shy away from praising our bosses as well as our peers and our reports. In doing so we demonstrate a number of things over and above recognising the good work that has been done. As a minimum, it shows an ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, a demonstration of empathy and evidence that you care, both of which go a long way.

More than this, you make the person you are braising feel good about themselves, make them grow, make them feel more confident and, as a result, more likely to do more of what they all good at. 

Have a go at praise – it’s free to give yet is sure to pay back

Here’s a few things to think about when deciding whether or not to give or not to give a colleague praise:

  • It may seem obvious, but only give credit where credit is due. Too much and it becomes given away too cheaply; too little and you might lose your colleague
  • Don’t only give praise because the circumstances meet your needs; think about what the recipient believes is excellent and give them praise in their context not just yours
  • Congratulate unconditionally; try and avoid “that’s really good, however …”
  • Try and give the praise in a way that it becomes the focus of the conversation such that it is not eclipsed by the rest other meeting; try to finish conversations positively and maybe give your praise at the end
  • Try to observe where your praise can have the most effect; some of us hardly respond the positive feedback, whereas others really crave it. Try and target your praise effectively to bring the best out of the right types of people. If you can, try and keep track of who responds the best

It goes without saying that different people need different levels of encouragement to succeed. The effective use of praise is a key tool in any managers kitbag. Try it, test it and learn where it has the best effect. There is no doubt that a little positive reinforcement and support goes along way; it’s almost certainly something we’re all going to need a fair dose of over the coming months.

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