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.
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