The Power of Praise

A recent Gallup poll reported that people no longer leave jobs because of their bosses as was the case in the past, now they leave due to lack of appreciation.

Many years ago, when my son Sam was about 8, he had a teacher at primary school who used to punish the whole class, if one person did something wrong.  It really backfired as a way of managing behavior in the class.  

Instead of taming the black sheep, the well-behaved kids got seriously demotivated and felt there was no benefit in behaving well because you just got punished anyway.  A downturn in Sam’s motivation to go to school drove me to put pen to paper to the teacher.  I directed her to a term called Positive Reinforcement whereby good behavior was called out and acknowledged.  To be fair, she took immediate action where students could earn stars for certain types of good behavior.  Motivation in the class improved.

As a result, I’ve always been aware of acknowledging good behavior.  What I see sometimes, is that those who are rude, disrespectful and arrogant often get the most attention.  They grab the limelight, for all the wrong reasons and those who quietly and respectfully carry out their work, and more besides, get overlooked.   

This can eventually lead to resentment, de-motivation and ultimately people leave due to lack of appreciation.  A recent Gallup poll reported that people no longer leave jobs because of their bosses as was the case in the past, now they leave due to lack of appreciation.

Taking a moment to appreciate what a team mate, colleague, club member, customer service agent, friend, family member … has done costs absolutely nothing. Nothing!  And yet, the repercussions can be far in excess of what you ever imagined! 

 It’s not that we are constantly looking to be told we’re great. In fact, it’s the opposite. We know we do a good job and we’re committed.  But sometimes, now and then, it would be really rewarding if someone noticed and acknowledged it.  

Back to Sam!  As a 19-year-old he is in training to achieve a high level of performance in his sport – rowing.  He trains so hard. He manages his diet, he gets to bed early – everything is focused on driving up his times. While other first year students are living the life, he’s choosing differently.  Yesterday, with a bunch of his peers he did a benchmark test.  The whole week is leading up to this. It’s important that he improves on the last test.  Well, he does, and we are all thrilled and excited.  

But for him, the thing that makes this so incredible, the thing that drives him on, that has him talking about his next benchmark, his next PB is this.

The coach, a man of few words, with more than 80 athletes in his charge, went to the bother of checking Sam’s times at that moment and saw that he had scored a Personal Best (PB).  There and then, he tapped him on the shoulder and said simply “Well done Sam, that was a PB”.  No more, no less.  

Wow, if he’d handed him a medal the impact could not have been more powerful.  Suddenly, all the tough days, the tiredness and boring food, the early mornings – it was all worthwhile.  Now he’s focused on his next achievement.

As I sat with a client recently, debriefing his 360 where I read through what his team, boss, peers and other outline as his strengths I become aware of my client sitting back from the report.  I keep reading, but I know what’s happening.  It’s happened quite a few times before.  When I finish I turn to him.  He’s wiping tears from his eyes.  This grown man, a strong, kind leader is crying.  He is overwhelmed about the good things people say about him, he is touched to the core that they appreciate him so much.  These things, they never say to him, but the 360 give them the opportunity to do just that.

The message is not lost on me.  Very often we say generic things to people as an acknowledgement.  “Great job, well done, good work” but we rattle that out all the time to the point that it has little meaning any more.  Pointing out something specific that you’ve noticed and outlining the impact is far more powerful and much more authentic.

“I noticed the kind way you spoke to that irate customer, you made a big difference to their experience”.  “Thank you for the way you changed around that spreadsheet, I can really understand this information now”. “I really appreciate you coming in early to open up, it’s lovely to have the shop nice and warm for our first customers”.

We are so quick to point out what people do wrong, to criticize in a way we label as constructive (mmm I wonder…) when highlighting their strengths will give them more confidence and motivation to tackle their areas for improvement.  People know themselves where they are weak, but rarely know where they are strong because they are rarely acknowledged for it.  Isn’t that sad? 

 On the other hand, a reiteration of their perceived incompetence and inabilities on a regular basis erodes their self-worth, confidence and can pervade their life experience.

So, this week, think about how you can give appreciation and praise and then watch the impact of it.  Do it purposefully and deliberately.  Here’s a few guidelines:-

  • Be authentic – don’t just pay lip -service
  • Be specific – describe what the person did and the impact it had
  • Make it in the moment
  • Use it sparingly and wisely – make it impactful and meaningful – don’t just rattle it out
  • Be helpful – help the other person learn something from the experience
  • Be aware – watch for these special moments where you can give something back to those around you – they are happening much more than you ever realized.

Your words have power.  Let them be a power for motivation and pride.

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