How to Give Praise

This is a follow-on to the Recognition piece we discussed last time.

We’ve probably all cringed at one time or another as a well-meaning person mangled their attempt to publicly praise someone, usually by directing their praise at the person and their qualities, and thus causing huge embarrassment on the part of their subject and on their audience alike. The intended purpose – to celebrate the result and to have the individual feel elevated and valued – is usually swamped by the huge cringe-factor and is lost entirely.

If the intention of the person issuing the praise was to reinforce the behavior by attaching a pleasant experience to it, they may well have had the exactly opposite effect by motivating their hapless subject to never again perform at a level that will bring them public notice and humiliation.

It pays to be aware of the huge, positive, free energy boost delivered to all parties when recognition is effectively delivered and to invest the small amount of forethought required to ensure that you do an expert job of it each time the occasion arises.

Here is a simple, four-step process that works every time:

Clearly state the precise result for which the person or team are being recognized and put it into the context of the organization’s goals (“Thanks to your work, we’ve just won first place out of more than 250 competitors in this month’s Service Awards Ratings.”).

Give some details of the key behaviors that brought about the result. (“The judges said that our team was the friendliest and most helpful by a significant margin. We go the extra mile for our customers without any hint of frustration or impatience and make everyone feel welcome when they contact us. As a result our customer satisfaction score was one of the highest they have ever seen.”)

Praise the behavior with reference to your values. (“It fills me with enormous pride when I hear of our people breathing life into our Mission ‘To create extraordinary shopping moments with quality products and sincere service.’ Your performance was as ‘extraordinary’ as the experience you created for your customers; and the sincerity of your service was certainly borne out by their feedback. Well done everyone. You deserve the prize this month, and you deserve the respect of every one of us on your team.”)

Ask a relevant question. (“So, is there any one thing that you chose to really focus on that you think played a key part in your results?”)
The last step in the process is intended to short-circuit any embarrassment that may be rising in those being recognized. It does so by deflecting their (and their audience’s) attention away from themselves and towards your question and to reflection on their actions.

If you omit this step, there is the risk that a shy person may be deterred from future excellence, or that a person of low self-esteem may, in the instant of receiving the praise, question their right to be recognized and may subconsciously reject the praise. Thus, they would have negated its effectiveness in endorsing their worth to the team and to themselves, and its effectiveness in motivating them towards further excellence.

Hopefully, you now have a tool to help you next time you give praise.

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