In Praise Of Praise

In Praise Of Praise

‘Tis the season – the season for overeating, celebrating and gathering. It’s also the season of giving praise, whether to your mother-in-law (ok, to my mother-in-law) for her delectable stuffed cabbage, or to your children for decorating the sukkah with such creative flair, and to God – for His gifts, forgiveness, and patience with us.

Here’s the only problem: Praise shouldn’t need a season. It should be shared abundantly, year-round. But if you’re like many professionals who only receive kudos during the annual performance review, or like many couples who only offer accolades on their anniversary, or like many Jews who quip “Thank God!” far more often than they ever really, truly thank God, you’re not alone.
When Dr. Gerald Graham of Wichita State University surveyed 1,500 employees across industries, he found the following disappointing, but not surprising, statistics:
1. 58% seldom if ever received praise from their manager
2. 76% seldom if ever received written thanks from their manager
3. 78% seldom if ever got a promotion based on performance
4. 81% seldom if ever received public praise
5. 92% seldom if ever participated in a meeting designed to build morale
When the same study asked participants to rank, in order, 65 potential motivators, guess which five emerged as the leading drivers? What people wanted and needed the most they received the least!
So, what’s getting in the way? Many of us are too busy with our own work to prioritize giving positive feedback. We’re also so focused on shrinking obstacles rather than growing the good stuff that we spend too much time giving corrective rather than supportive feedback. Finally, when we don’t have role models that give us praise, we don’t know how to give it to others, either.
According to Proverbs 16:24, “Encouraging words are as honey, sweet to the soul and health to the being.” So how do we give encouraging words that feel less like a sugar rush and more than an energy bar? In their book Managing Up, Michael and Deborah Singer Dodson share this acrostic to remind us how to give praise:
  • Personally. The Talmud tells us, “You may tell part of a person’s praises to him or her directly.” If you are the one who has witnessed or benefitted from what someone else has done, you should be the one to give the compliment. This is not something you should delegate to someone else. Furthermore, if you can find any way possible and within reason to share the feedback in person, do so. If you can’t do it in person, then get as close to “in person” as you can. Phone is better than email, email is better than a text message, and a text message is better than nothing, I guess. All that being said, a handwritten note (remember those?) is a wonderful way to share positive feedback that never goes out of style. Use it in addition to all of the above.
  • Regularly. Regularly doesn’t mean “Wednesday is Praise Day.” Nor does it mean all the time. Regular praise means that it is a healthy and consistent part of your interpersonal relationships. The people in your work and life can and should come to expect it – which is not the same as being dependent upon it, or feeling entitled to it.
  • ·Assertively. If you’ve ever heard someone say “What, this old thing?” when someone offered you positive feedback on your outfit or your sales pitch, then you realized you had two choices: you could drop the matter altogether or you could do your best to insist that someone take the praise you have given. Of course, if you’ve ever said your own version of “What, this old thing?” then you’ve got mud on your hands. Giving genuine praise feels good. When you reject the praise, you reject the person giving it. It’s like handing back a present that someone has just given to you. That feels bad for everyone. Accepting praise is a positive sign of self-acceptance. Accepting praise establishes and develops interpersonal relationships because it requires an exchange of ideas and opinions. Accepting praise does not mean that you’re done growing or improving – it simply means that you recognize that someone saw something in you worth acknowledging, and perhaps repeating.
  • Immediately. In her book, The Leader as a Mentsch: Become the Kind of Person that Others Want to Follow, author Bruna Martinuzzi writes: “Praise has a limited "best before" date. Don’t delay its expression or wait until performance review time – when you see something that is worthy of praising, do so promptly after the event.” It’s not better saved for your annual romantic vacation, or for your speech at your daughter’s bat mitzvah. When you give praise and encouragement in a prompt and timely manner, you are more likely to remember and convey the exact details of what worked well and why – and the more specifics that you can share, the more likely you are to have that positive behavior repeated. You got something nice to say? Don’t save it. Life is short, and so are our memories.
  • Sincerely. Consider the following: “Well done — for you.”“Excellent job – so far.” “That was terrific! Why didn’t you do it like this before? (or Can’t you do it this way all the time?)”
Do you see what gets in the way of sincerity? There’s a string attached to every single one of these that, when given a gentle tug, begins to unravel the entire piece of positive feedback until there’s nothing left. In order for praise to sound and feel sincere, there can be no hidden agendas. You need to match your tone of voice and your body language to the words that you are communicating. “Thanks for make the ‘effort’.” where you put “effort” in finger quotes and use a sarcastic tone doesn’t count as praise.
  • Explicitly. No, this doesn’t mean using four-letter words in your praise. It means being as clear and specific as you can in giving positive feedback and encouragement. It also means giving praise in the way in which the recipient is most likely to value it. When you give praise, make sure that it is custom-fit for the wearer, not the bearer.
Whether you’re giving the recognition or receiving the kudos, remember that praise is a gift. Give it willingly, with an open heart, and without expectation of reciprocation. Accept it warmly, with a smile, and with a sincere “thank you.” It’s a gift that makes the present – and your presence in it — more positive.
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