Physically, we need food and drink to survive. Emotionally, we crave praise, encouragement, validation, admiration, attention, recognition, appreciation, and commendation. Without them, we cannot lead healthy emotional lives. Despite their importance, however, for many, praise is as rare as diamonds.
All of us, in one way or another, feel this need. Take me, for example. Although I extol the virtue of humility in one or more of my articles, don’t I carefully include my name beneath the article’s title?
William James taught us that what holds us back more than anything else is self-doubt. Alec Waugh explains, “A man desires praise that he may be reassured, that he may be quit of his doubting of himself; he is indifferent to applause when he is confident of success.” Because each word of praise and recognition we offer another helps to diminish or erase their self-doubt, we offer a priceless gift. So, by offering praise, we become praiseworthy.
Robert Collier adds, “Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement—and we will make the goal.” Knowing this, how can we not want to help? We can easily become a conduit of strength and confidence just by offering a few words of praise. We can, then, become a force for good, contributing to life, because people are in desperate need of praise and recognition.
Praising others is not only compassionate, but makes a great deal of sense, for when we do so, we repair relationships, reduce stress, have a purpose for living, win friends and allies, serve as a role model, add to the happiness of ourselves and others, and encourage more of the praiseworthy behavior. Moreover, we will experience an overall improvement in our lives, for as Harry A. Ironside explains, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”
How to Offer Praise
Follow these four steps to make your praise as effective and helpful as possible.
1. Include the name of the person you are praising.
2. Be specific about the where, when, and how of their behavior.
3. Be sincere.
4. (Optional, but powerful, transformative step.) Mention the individual’s positive character trait that is responsible for their behavior.
Boss to employee (patting him on the back): “Thank you for the good job.”
Employee’s thoughts: “What job? Is he talking about what I am doing now or something else? Does he really mean it? He didn’t mention my name; I wonder if he really knows who I am.”
Compare the first example with this one:
Boss: “Hi, Tim. I know your department was short-staffed yesterday. Yet, despite the extra work you had to do, you shipped out all the orders on time. It’s a pleasure to have someone on our team that is as committed and dedicated as you.”
If your praise isn’t very specific, you may appear to be insincere. Because of the detail in the above example, it comes across as believable, and the sincerity of the boss will come through because of his body language. After receiving the praise, Tim realizes that he is important enough to be known by name, the boss is aware of what is going on in the company, and Tim’s extra effort did not go unnoticed and was appreciated.
Now, let’s analyze the last sentence in the praise offered by Tim’s boss, “It’s a pleasure to have someone on our team that is as committed and dedicated as you.” This is the optional, but most powerful part of the praise. It points out Tim’s best self. That is, Tim is not just another worker, he is committed and dedicated. Perhaps Tim never consciously thought of himself that way, but now that his boss mentioned it and furnished proof, it awakens Tim to his best self and encourages him to develop it further.
This last step is optional because it requires more thinking on your part. After deciding to praise someone, you ask yourself, “What positive character trait would that individual have to have to behave in such a manner?” And you add it to the end of your praise. Since we are not accustomed to thinking in terms of positive character traits, you may find it difficult to answer the question at first. But if you have a list of positive character traits you can refer to, you’ll find it easy enough to do. To help you in this regard, I am appending a list of 178 positive character traits at the end of this article. Do not neglect this additional step; it is your opportunity to transform lives! For as Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote, “ If you treat an individual… as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
The Power of Indirect Praise
A formidable way to use praise is indirectly. If you wanted to praise Mary, for example, you could praise her to someone else, with or without Mary’s knowledge. Here are two examples.
1. At a recent seminar, as attendees arrived and took a seat, whenever someone sat alone, I explained that we would be working in teams and asked them to join another member. However, when I asked Mary who sat alone in the last row to move she said she didn’t want to. At first I thought this act of defiance or resistance was a poor way to begin a seminar on Inspirational Leadership. But this real life problem allowed me to demonstrate the principles of Inspirational Leadership in action. As Mary was unwilling to come to the front and join Catherine, I asked Catherine to go to the rear and join Mary. By being flexible, I solved the first problem, which was how to get all the members to form teams.
The second problem was how do I turn an uncooperative person (Mary) into a team player? Happily, I was able to do so quickly. I posed a question to the group, had them discuss it in teams, asked them to arrive at a consensus, and present their conclusions to the group. I did not start or end with Mary’s team, but waited until half the room participated. After three more teams contributed, I commented on what was just said by the last team, saying, “What you just said is very helpful. It is similar to what Mary said earlier, and we can all benefit from both statements.” As I said this, I was not looking at Mary, but I was praising her indirectly.
Imagine what Mary, who was initially hostile, was thinking. “My opinion and name were important enough for the seminar leader to mention to the group.” Mary was completely transformed, fully cooperating, and joining in the laughter, discussions, questions, and drills for the rest of the day. Such is the power of indirect praise!
2. Another form of indirect praise is to praise someone without their knowledge. Imagine this scenario. There is someone at the office you would like to get along with, but that person is hostile and suspicious of your motives. All of your previous attempts to chat, have lunch with, or even help that person have been rebuffed. Any further attempts may only irritate that person further. What do you do?
Here’s what you can do. Think of something that you respect and admire about that person. And the next time you are chatting with someone else in the office, bring up that subject in your conversation… “Speaking about being organized, that’s what I like about Mary; she’s so organized and efficient. I’m going to have to ask her for some tips.” After a while, your praise will reach Mary through the grapevine. After she hears your praise, she won’t feel threatened by or suspicious of you, and she will become more amiable. When you think the time is ripe, test the waters, and if she appears cooperative, ask her for some tips on how to become just as organized and efficient. Do this and you may very well win a friend for life!
Before going further, it is important to understand that I’m not writing about manipulation. Manipulation is about trying to get something from someone. What I am discussing is the opposite. It is about trying to give away something (friendship, cooperation, assistance, teamwork).
A third way to praise someone indirectly is by engaging in Active Listening. That is, when someone is speaking to you, you actively engage, giving them your full attention and verifying what you think they said. This is a form of indirect praise because you are implying that what they have to say is important to you. It is a form of validation, a way of saying, “You matter.” Isn’t that the highest form of praise?
A fourth method of indirect praise is to talk to people about their favorite subject; namely, themselves. For as Lisa Kirk points out, “A gossip is one who talks to you about other people. A bore is one who talks to you about himself. And a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself.”
1. Praise is something we give to others, not something we try to apply to ourselves. You see, if we praise ourselves, the implication is, “I’m better than you.” Be humble. Humility is not self-deprecation; it is simply a way of saying, “I am no better than you.” The bible offers good advice, “Let another praise you and not your own mouth, a stranger and not your own lips.” (Proverbs, 27:2)
2. You may be busy, but make the time to carry out the noble task of praising others. “No matter how busy you are, you must take time to make the other person feel important. Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”(Mary Kay Ash)
3. After being praised some people deny it in order to be praised again. When you are being praised, don’t deny it in humility because to do so will deny the person praising you the pleasure of being generous, kind, and truthful. Instead, when you are praised, simply thank them.
4. Heed this warning: “The meanest, most contemptible kind of praise is that which first speaks well of a man, and then qualifies it with a ‘But”“. (Henry Ward Beecher)
5. Rather than seek praise, which may make you proud and arrogant, seek constructive criticism, which may make you a better person.
6. Here’s a good attitude for managers: “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it.”(Bear Bryant)
7. Overpraising someone is tantamount to belittling them, for the recipient realizes that the remarks are insincere.
8.He who praises everybody, praises nobody. (Samuel Johnson)
9.The more worthy you make yourself, the more valuable your praise will be.
10. Although it’s good to be generous with praise, be cautious with criticism.
11.Praise makes good people better and bad people worse.
12. Praise in public, admonish in private.
13. Angry people can be worthy of praise, for “We praise a man who feels angry on the right grounds and against the right persons and also in the right manner at the right moment and for the right length of time.”(Aristotle)
16. Don’t be driven by praise or slowed down by criticism; just work on being the best possible you.
17. “Once in a century a man may be ruined or made insufferable by praise. But surely once in a minute something generous dies for want of it.”(John Masefield)
18. “Live your life with the understanding that ‘The house praises the carpenter.’”(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
19. “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.”(Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
20. “How little praise warms out of a man the good that is in him, as the sneer of contempt which he feels is unjust chill the ardor to excel.”(Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton)
I’d like to end with this good advice from an unknown poet:
When Life Seems Just a Dreary Grind;
And Things Seem Fated to Annoy;
Say Something Nice to Someone Else
And Watch the World Light Up with Joy!
ENCOURAGING THE HEART: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner