How to Give Praise That Matters


To this day, I can remember how hard I worked on an essay for my Psych 101 class in college.  Wanting to impress the professor, I slaved over my writing—checking sources, adding quotes, and painstakingly working through the rubric.

When the professor returned my paper, I was quite disappointed to see a simple letter “A” on the top of my stapled sheets.  “A?”  Nothing else?  No comments?  But what about that great idea I had on the second page?  Did she even read it?   Where was the praise for all my hard work?

Maybe I wouldn’t work so hard next time.

Praise doesn’t cost anything to give and takes very little time, yet so many managers fail to do this on a regular basis.  Or, the praise given is so generic, it doesn’t really matter to employees.

Why is this?  Perhaps managers think praise is not necessary, or perhaps they simply don’t know how to give genuine, relevant praise.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, describes 7 Tips for Giving Effective Praise (Psychology Today):

  1. Be specific.
  2. Find a way to praise sincerely and realistically.
  3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation.
  4. Look for something less obvious to praise.
  5. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already.
  6. Praise people behind their backs.
  7. Beware when a person asks for your honest opinion.

My professor should have made several specific comments, going beyond things like “Good Job” or “Nice work.”  She should have found something in my paper that no one else mentioned, or commented on my unique writing style and ideas.

Praise takes practice.  To give sincere praise, it takes the ability to step outside of oneself and show a bit of vulnerability.  One idea is to practice with something easy like responding to an email; in the email, specifically describe an employee’s accomplishments.  See what kind of response you get. You can also find ways create employee happiness and growth opportunities.

But why give praise?

Bottom line: it’s highly motivating.  Some employees wait all day for managers to respond to and praise their work.  Praise, given in the right way, can result in more effort and better quality work.  It can also lead to increased happiness for both the employee and manager.  Gretchen Rubin says, “Praise is gratifying to the person getting praised, of course, but it also boosts the happiness of the praiser — at least I’ve found that true of myself. Because the way we feel is very much influenced by the way we act, by acting in a way that shows appreciation, discernment, and thoughtfulness, we make ourselves feel more appreciative, discerning, and thoughtful. And that boosts happiness.”

Artemis Consultants knows that praise matters in a positive work environment.  We are experts in helping both businesses and individuals find positive, successful work environments in Software, Technology, Data and B2B Services.  Please visit Artemis Consultants for more information on how our team can partner with you.

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