In Praise of Praise

I sit in an old German Brauhaus on the outskirts of Frankfurt with Martin, the European General Manager of a global manufacturing firm, and our talk quickly settles on members of his staff.

“Sabine, your assistant, was immensely helpful to me all day,” I let him know.

Martin chuckles and says. “You know, I inherited her from my predecessor.” I know the history behind this comment. When Martin became GM, he inherited quite a few folks who did not perform all that well. “I realized again the other day how good Sabine is at organizing things. It was close to midnight, and I was in a very remote part of Germany where I had never been, and without her meticulous instructions I would have been lost.” Martin pauses and elaborates. “The next time I saw Sabine, I told her how her smile first thing in the morning really puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. Sabine has been even more attentive since then.”

I am struck by the brilliance of those words of praise. They are specific. They transcend the acknowledgment of a routine task well-performed. They go to the very heart of Sabine’s desire to please her boss. More importantly, they acknowledge the emotional impact her behavior has on Martin. No wonder Sabine is eager to do an even more amazing job!

Praise is more than feedback. Praise touches the emotional core of the receiver. It is an energy catalyst that galvanizes our deepest desires to do well, do more, make a difference.

If you want a high return on investment for the words you speak – choose praise.

Here are some tips for delivering praise that truly matters:

1. Transcend platitudes. Thank you for your hard work is not praise. It’s impersonal. It’s a cliché. By not acknowledging the quality or details of the work that was performed, it actually insults the person it seeks to praise.

2. Be specific. When we comment on specifics and small details, we show that we notice. Notice something new someone has done. Something unexpected. Something surprising. A subtle change. And we let them know.

3. Describe the person’s impact on you. Because your report was so wonderfully thorough, there’s was nothing else I had to do to it. The time you saved me made it possible for me to actually leave work on time. Thank you! Most of us do not merely wish to do well – we wish to make a difference. As you praise, describe how the behavior that you’re praising has made a difference in your life!

My commitment for this week: I will notice my colleagues and friends whose efforts make my life easier. I choose to praise their efforts. And I will receive the amazing energy that my words of praise unleash.