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Brighten someone’s day by singing their praise

Natasha Josefowitz Ph.D.

I have often heard people equating the giving of compliments with being a softy. Somehow, praising someone’s performance feels to many people like they’re not being tough enough and therefore might lose their staff’s respect.

Our language expresses this fear of the consequences of giving compliments: “It will go to his head, she’ll have a swelled head, you won’t be able to talk to him after this,” etc. Some of us like to receive compliments - it makes us feel good - but others are embarrassed by them. I am wondering whether the people who feel uncomfortable getting praise are the same ones who are ill at ease giving it?

In the hustle and bustle of the everyday world, it is all too often that we take people, and things, for granted. I recently saw a poster that went something like this: “Be quicker to praise, less quick to criticize.” The old adage, “A pat on the back goes a lot farther than a kick in the pants,” still holds true in today’s harried world. People respond to praise. It generates a feeling of good will.

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Let the people around you know how much your truly appreciate their hard work and efforts. Saying something as simple as, “Thank you, you did a good job today,” will generate a sense of pride and accomplishment in them. By the way, leaders are no exception to the rule - they, too, like to receive positive reinforcement.

Giving a compliment is an art in itself. It is making a person feel good about themselves, and even more important, feel “special.” You will brighten someone’s day by letting them know that the job they did is not going unrecognized. It is never too late to start showing a little appreciation to those around you. Take a chance in conveying respect or even admiration for someone; you’ll be amazed with the response.

Studies have shown that people learn more from their successes than their mistakes. Learn to notice even routine good work; this will not make you any less of a good boss - quite the opposite.

A friend of mine, Ken Blanchard, who wrote the One Minute Manager, tells the story of being on a TV talk show and explaining about the one-minute praise that means catching someone doing something right. At the end of the show, one of the crew members came up to him and said with tears in his eyes: “I have been working at this station for over 20 years and no one has ever given me a compliment on my work. I wish they had heard what you have to say.”

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A compliment will make people feel good, especially if it is tied to a specific piece of work or performance. Vague, general compliments are not as effective.

On the home front, after a dinner party, “Thank you for the lovely evening” is nice, but “I loved your flower arrangement” or “Your dessert was spectacular” or “I really enjoyed talking to your other guests” is more specific and more appreciated. In other words, whenever possible, find a particular thing to praise.

Recent studies have shown that telling a child that he or she did a good piece of work because he or she worked hard is much more effective than telling a child that his or her success is due to the fact that he or she is smart.

Children can control how hard they work and can be motivated to continue to do so. They have no control over their innate intelligence and therefore do not feel deserving of praise for something not due to effort on their part.

Although it’s important for our children’s self-confidence to confirm how bright they are, there is nothing like hard work that pays off - to give kids the self-confidence that they can make it.

So choose your compliments carefully, but not parsimoniously. Go ahead - make someone’s day. You’ll both be glad you did.