Praise is surprisingly difficult to get right. Even good praise looses its power if there is too much of it. It can be ruined in any number of ways. A surprised tone of voice wrecks it, whilst any hint of negativity wipes out all the positive impact. As with all addictive substances there is a level of safe use, after which it gets dangerous. Two units of alcohol a day are deemed safe, two units of praise is far too much. If one is praised every day you quickly stop experiencing any rush and any reduction leaves one feeling de-motivated.
In my view the correct praise “dosage” is gender dependent, as with alcohol. Men take praise on face value and so are sustained by less. Women reject half the praise as being insincere, misdirected or offensive so need more to get by on. I’m not sure where that puts me with my aversion to praise, a house cat maybe!
It is not only the quantity of the praise but the quality that is hard to get right. There are three pieces of advice often given to managers to make their praise more effective.
- Praise must be public: this is down right irresponsible, whilst it is never certain that the praise will make the person feel any better. It is always certain that public praise will inflict heavy collateral damage on everyone else who hears it.
- Praise must be specific: I thing that this is poor advice as the detail chosen by the manager may not be the thing that the recipient wants to be commended for. They might be praised for their eye for detail, when in fact they’d like to be praised for their creativity.
- Smile when praising someone: this is also a bad idea. The point of good praise is that it should look deadly serious in order to seen as sincere. If it comes from some grinning fool one knows to disregard it all together!