The Danger of Praise
Did you ever give (or get) some good feedback only to have it backfire?
You know that praise is important, really important, because people are masters of self-criticism. We’re wired to spot the negative, to ferret out any deficiency because those make us vulnerable. An excellent survival mechanism when you are in actual danger of being killed by a rampaging beast, but not useful for cultivating people’s performance in most of today’s workplaces.
Certainly highlighting what is working tends to encourage more of it.
There’s even a scientific 3:1 positivity ratio that can change people and leads to bottom line results.
So, why does it backfire and how could praise possibility be dangerous?
The Danger of Praise
Most people offering feedback when trying to help someone see their capacity either praise IQ (you’re smart) or talent (you have a gift for report writing). That recognizes facts and gives a temporary boost to the person. But it does little to foster development of a person’s innate abilities or their willingness to keep at it when faced with a challenging task.
Here is the danger: The best intended positive feedback can set people up to fear losing a positive label, or deserving a negative label. That puts people in an all or nothing mindset. You are capable or you are not. You have management skills or you don’t.
People labeled as smart or talented can, when presented with a task that requires effort, give up easily or avoid it, feeling like a fraud, failure or inadequate. They think, “If it takes effort that means I am not capable. So why bother.” You can see how this leads to sub-par performance, defensiveness or apathy. None of which is good for business or for people.
Whether you’re mentoring a high-potential employee or raising a child you are developing a person. The message to send is “I see the potential you have, and I am interested in helping you cultivate it to the fullest extent. That will take on going effort.”
Why You Should Give Effort Based Praise
Sustained effort is the stuff of grit. Persevering through the hard work, the difficult truths, the mistakes and consequences, is how growth happens. Connecting effort, potential and perseverance builds people’s internal drive, so they take ownership and see a task through.
Be intrigued by mistakes; embrace efforts and love a challenge (or learn to) and you’ll grow. Help others do develop a greater of level curiosity and degree of flexibility and they will grow to too. This builds confidence when things go smoothly and repairs it when things fall apart. People learn to value what other people are able to do better and differently which makes for strong support teams and collaboration that has a positive impact.
The Right, Danger Free Way to Give Praise that Gets Bottom Line Results
“You’re a whiz at putting together reports, thank you.” Is pleasant, supportive, dull and without much substance. You can give praise in a manner that does not stay on the appealing surface, inflate egos or distort people’s specific capacities.
Set high standards and help people live into their potential by giving specific feedback that focuses on effort. Be generous and specific in your feedback. Hone in on what the person actually did and how that makes a difference. Be clear about actions you want to see people take because they get the results you and your organization want include those in the specifics you cite.
Here are three examples:
Validation: “Thinking through the 3 most important take away points for the 3rd Quarter Report and highlighting them, helped the Board understand the status of our project up to now and what resources we need to see it through.”
Affirmation: “All the credit you got from the Board about the 3rd Quarter Report is deserved, you underscored the most important points for them, which gave them a clear focus in the rest of the meeting.”
Confirmation: “It is great that you took on the 3rd Quarter Report, that was a new for you. You tapped into skills you have not used before and your efforts resulted in a organized, insightful and well received document.”
This kind of feedback cultivates a belief that effort is valuable and abilities can be cultivated.
For more on the how to give praise that works read Mindset by Carol Dweck or Quiet Leadership by David Rock.