• From the right kind of compliments to how and where to give recognition, we share four tips to help you master the art of giving praise.
Not all compliments are created equal. At their best, they can make the recipient feel appreciated and motivate them to do even better. But if you praise someone for the wrong reason, at the wrong time or place, you may come off as insincere. So, how do we make sure our praise is well-placed and effective?
1. Pick the right compliment
An authentic compliment is one that resonates with you and the receiver. Think about why you appreciate that person, and whether that’s something they also value. One simple way to identify what others deem important is by looking at where they put in a lot of effort. For example, your colleague will appreciate a compliment on their well-researched report after they have spent days working on it. Studies done by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck also found that affirming someone’s effort, rather than innate traits such as being “smart”, fosters motivation and encourages them to take on challenges. It reinforces the growth mindset – the belief that one’s ability can improve through hard work – a mindset that’s essential for success at work and in life.
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2. Use specific language
Compare “Great presentation!” with “The way you presented was so engaging. I loved how you talked about X and Y!” The latter feels more personal and genuine, but why? The key is in the details. When you’re specific about your compliment, it shows the receiver you notice their effort and aren’t just being polite. Here’s how you can make your language more specific: first, point out the details that you appreciate, such as the processes they’ve used or a certain part of their work that stands out. Another detail to include is the positive impact that their work has created. Finally, use descriptive adjectives – telling your teammate their report is “thorough and well written” sounds more convincing than a generic “good job”.
3. Save feedback and requests for later
While it’s common to give recognition and feedback at the same time, doing so only diminishes the feel-good effect of your compliment. According to a study by John Cacioppo, a researcher at the University of Chicago, the human brain tends to be more influenced by negative stimuli than positive ones. This means when you mix praise with feedback (even when it’s meant to be constructive), the person hearing it is likely to focus and dwell on the negative comments, which goes against your goal to give them a confidence boost. Another thing to avoid is asking for a favour within the same conversation – it makes your compliment appear disingenuous, as though you have an ulterior motive.
4. Understand how they prefer to be recognised
Everyone has their own preferred way of receiving praise – some like to be recognised publicly, while others may feel uncomfortable when put under the limelight. Appreciation expressed in the receiver’s preferred manner naturally feels more meaningful, but a recent study by O.C. Tanner finds that only 51% of leaders know how their employees like to be complimented. The simplest solution is to ask them: before you give a shout-out to a teammate in front of the whole office, ask them if they’re okay with that. And in addition to telling them directly, try praising them “behind their backs” as well – just like most office gossip, word gets around, and your compliment will seem that much more credible and sincere through others’ mouths.
Do you know your teammates? Find out how to leverage on their strengths using DISC personal profile analysis.