When Praise is Better Left Un-Given

There are circumstances where praise can embarrass and de-motivate.

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Michael Wade

A lack of appreciation is often cited as a reason why people leave organizations. In order to counter that, many organizations encourage supervisors to heap on the praise.

It is a good example of how the opposite of a poor practice is not always a good practice.

Handled poorly, praise can be a de-motivator and even a form of humiliation. Here are a few approaches that should be avoided:

1. Praise inflation. Overdo praise and in no time the words will be meaningless. People will realize that “Fantastic” is used to describe even the most mediocre performance. An offering that should be a boost will become an irritant.

2. Back-handed compliments. If you are going to praise someone, don’t add qualifiers. They’ll forget the main sentence and focus on the footnotes.

3. Poor timing. Praise that is given at a meeting where a major, unrelated topic will dominate the audience’s attention is praise that is wasted. (This is especially the case if the main topic is bad news.) It may even embarrass the recipient that the recognition was an “add-on.”

4. Insincerity. This is a lethal ingredient where praise is concerned. Any sense that the praise-giver is insincere will destroy the value of the message.

5. Lack of passion. Listening to a speaker drone through a description of a person’s achievements at an awards ceremony is sad. If you are going to praise someone, your words should be conveyed with genuine enthusiasm.

6. Cultural or personal issues. Some people, due to cultural or personal preference, would rather be praised in private. They are very uncomfortable with any public recognition. Be sensitive to the possibility that the recipient might not like the attention.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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