My Son Smilling

If it told you I had some feedback for you, what would you think? Probably, you would think some form of “Yikes, what did I do wrong?” You wouldn’t assume that I wanted to share something that you “should keep on doing.”

Praise is one of the least used management tools. And when we do use it, we often follow it with a critical piece of information. “You’re doing a really good job….BUT, (you fill in the blank).” Or, we skim over the opportunity with some head-nodding and back-patting.

Instead, well-done praise should inform the person what he did that he should replicate to be successful—what we appreciate, exactly.

It’s the same problem we have with poorly done “constructive” feedback. We often speak and listen to assessment language that does not communicate much about what we mean. We get only a directional arrow, not the information (facts and observations) that helps us chart a new path.

Do you pass up on praise as information?

We’re even worse receivers of praise than givers of praise. If someone says to me ” I love your Monday Morning blog!” I am still likely to say, ” That’s great” and either change the topic or let it drop. What’s the problem with that? The problem is: I don’t know what the person is talking about. I might think I know, but I can’t be sure. So, I have trained myself to say “That’s great, what do you like in particular?” and then deal with the blank stare and moment someone needs to consider what she does mean.

Praise can create great energy

The single most compelling example of the power of praise comes, not from my work life, but from my parenting life. When my son was about four or five, he and I did a lot of play with those wooden blocks of blue rectangles, yellow arches, orange triangles—do you remember those? We built huge cities side-by-side in the basement. One day, I stopped to look at his city and said ” Michael, your New York City is terrific! He looked up and said ” Thanks, what do you mean?” I said, ” I really like your city—it’s neat!” He sat up and looked me right int the eye and said,

“But, what do you mean by ‘terrific’?”

I stopped in my tracks and thought for a minute. Then, I launched into ” Hmmm, well I like the way you have your city spread out into a long set of neighborhoods from the wall to the chair. I like that some areas have buildings that are six inches tall and others are even higher. You have people sitting in interesting places and cars parked to show me the parking garages.” As I laid out each item that clarified what  I meant by “terrific,” his smile grew bigger and bigger. You see, I was not only telling him exactly why I liked about his city, but he “got” that I really noticed and really liked it.

So much of our praise, given and received, delivers a fleeting jolt of positive energy. We work so hard, and push through so many challenges these days, why not take the time to generate some high, positive energy.  I suspect you’ll find that, as the giver, you create a complementary positive energy for yourself.

By the way, adults are not as comfortable with praise as children. You will likely have to deal with their brushing it off with ” Well, we could have…” or ” Thanks, but I wish I had…” Don’t fall for that. Remember praise is about two things.

1. Getting more of what you want, and
2. Lighting up the person’s energy.

Oh, and if you take the time to deliver great praise independent of criticism, you won’t be so drawn to draping criticism with a few tidbits of praise to ease the way.

Today, look for an opportunity to really praise someone genuinely. Stop and make sure he or she knows what you mean. Then, take a minute and let me know about your experience and the outcome.