How to praise sin­cerely

Man­agers of­ten un­der­es­ti­mate the power of pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. Here are some tips on how to show ap­pre­ci­a­tion for work done well.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - By Amanda Visser

the ef­fect of praise is quite pow­er­ful, yet it ap­pears to be one of the most dif­fi­cult parts of a man­ager’s job. A sur­vey by Zenger/Folk­man, a lead­er­ship devel­op­ment con­sul­tancy, found that 37% of the more than 7 600 par­tic­i­pants do not give pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. More than 20% ad­mit that they avoid giv­ing any neg­a­tive feed­back.

CEO Jack Zenger and com­pany pres­i­dent Joseph Folk­man say lead­ers carry “some in­cor­rect be­liefs” about the value and ben­e­fit of dif­fer­ent forms of feed­back. “They vastly un­der­es­ti­mate the power and ne­ces­sity of pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment,” they say in an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view.

Asanda Gcoyi, CEO of CB Tal­ent in Pre­to­ria, says the art of giv­ing praise is in its most sim­plis­tic form an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of some­thing that some­one has done well.

“It is an un­der­stand­ing, not only in the work­place but also in your per­sonal sphere, that some things take ef­fort and as an in­di­vid­ual you need to be giv­ing praise when it is war­ranted,” Gcoyi says.

That means un­der­stand­ing sit­u­a­tions and the ef­fort it takes to do cer­tain tasks, from the other per­son’s point of view. “Some­times there is a sense that if you praise, you are pro­mot­ing com­pla­cency, and that peo­ple keep that stan­dard at which they re­ceived praise and don’t raise it.”

True North ex­ec­u­tive coach Sue Wel­man says it is not as sim­ple as giv­ing or not giv­ing praise. It is also about be­ing able to de­liver the praise in the pre­ferred com­mu­ni­ca­tion style of the re­cip­i­ent.

“If you do not speak my lan­guage, I am less likely to hear you. This is not in terms of lan­guages as such, but the per­son’s pre­ferred ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” Wel­man says. There are peo­ple who re­quire a great deal of de­tail in or­der to con­nect, or there are the “big pic­ture” peo­ple.

Gcoyi adds: “There is no sub­sti­tute for truly know­ing the peo­ple who are work­ing with you.”

Strik­ing the bal­ance

The chal­lenge once you have been iden­ti­fied as a non-praise-giver – and once it has been iden­ti­fied as a weak­ness – is to not over­com­pen­sate and over­praise. Wel­man says peo­ple nat­u­rally sense when you are be­ing in­sin­cere. Fo­cus on be­ing au­then­tic and real. Know who you are talk­ing to and what ex­actly you are try­ing to con­vey. The start­ing point is to learn to say thank you. That is the foun­da­tion. Gcoyi says once we have “thank you” as a foun­da­tion, it be­comes much eas­ier to move on to pos­i­tive praise. With­out thank­ing some­one for do­ing some­thing, giv­ing praise will not be a nat­u­ral next step. Psy­chol­o­gists be­lieve that for ev­ery neg­a­tive state­ment there should be sev­eral pos­i­tive state­ments. In the end it is about iden­ti­fy­ing and giv­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a per­son’s value – ei­ther in terms of their skill, de­liv­ery or con­tri­bu­tion to the team or project, says Wel­man. “When peo­ple feel val­ued as a con­sis­tent foun­da­tion, they are more open to dis­cussing po­ten­tial ar­eas for devel­op­ment. I be­lieve it be­comes less about the bal­ance be­tween praise and neg­a­tive feed­back and more about build­ing a foun­da­tion of trust within which hon­est con­ver­sa­tions can be had by all,” she says. The Zenger/Folk­man sur­vey does not give in­sight into why man­agers are so hes­i­tant to give pos­i­tive feed­back. How­ever, past ex­pe­ri­ences have shown that it starts with a per­cep­tion that the re­ally good man­agers are the tough graders who are not afraid to tell peo­ple what is wrong. Their find­ings do suggest that if peo­ple want to be seen as a good feed­back-giver, they should proac­tively de­velop the skill of giv­ing praise as well as crit­i­cism. “Giv­ing pos­i­tive feed­back shows your sub­or­di­nates that you are in their cor­ner, and that you want them to win and to suc­ceed.

“They vastly un­der­es­ti­mate the power and ne­ces­sity of pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment.” Re­search by Zenger/Folk­man found that 37% of the more than 7 600 par­tic­i­pants do not give pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment. More than 20% ad­mit that they avoid giv­ing any neg­a­tive feed­back.

Asanda Gcoyi CEO of CB Tal­ent

Sue Wel­man Ex­ec­u­tive coach at True North

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