In Praise of Praise: Becoming a Master

There’s an art to giving praise. 

Think back to a favorite boss or mentor (hopefully you’ve had a few). I bet what they all have in common is that you felt “seen” by them. They reflected your “goodness” in meaningful comments that made you feel good about your purpose and performance. And that in turn put a smile on your face and empowered you to do even better

Now that you have people reporting to you, are you paying praise forward? In the hustle and bustle of business, it’s an easy thing to forget to do. But the art of praise is a skill worth mastering.

You don’t have to be Rembrandt to be a masterful artist of praise. Simply follow these paint-by-number steps to create a praise masterpiece and your employees and coworkers (and families!), will come to life.  

Becoming an artist of praise
is a skill worth mastering.
— Lisa Bourdon

1. Make Praise Particular

Generic, all-purpose praise phrases such as “Nice work!” and “Good job!” fall flat because they are not specific to the praiseworthy task. A quick “WTG!” text after a brilliant performance doesn’t exactly express deep appreciation. Instead of a masterpiece, it’s more like a dingy Velvet Elvis wall hanging: no one really longs for it and no one appreciates getting it. (And it doesn’t look good hanging on anyone’s wall!)

Particularize your praise by paying attention to the details. Did an employee do something creative, insightful, unique, time-saving, or money-saving? Then say so.

Here is an example of how you can particularize your praise:

Don’t: Hey Emily, nice work with the code. Appreciate it!

Do: Emily, the creative way that you fixed the bug in the app code was sheer genius! I would have never thought to do that! I am so glad that you are on our team! 

Don’t: Jim, the inventory storage looks great. Thanks for getting it done.

Do:  Joe, I just walked through the warehouse – wow! You got the inventory shelved in record time. I noticed that you organized the stacks by SKU. That is brilliant! It’s going to make next week’s sale a breeze for shipping. Thanks so much.

2. Make Praise Personal

Personalized praise invests deep value is in your praise-masterpiece by encouraging and reinforcing the talents and intuitions in your employees that they most value in themselves.  

For example, if you have assessed your team with the Kolbe A Index, then you could praise your employees according to their do-er styles. By praising your Fact-Finder’s (one of the do-er styles), depth of detail in the one-stop-shop spreadsheet she just created that tracks the timeline, investments, costs, and contractors for a new branch office, you are affirming her innate way of operating in the world– and this is a master stroke in the art of praise. 

You can also make praise personal in how and where you deliver it. Some people love to be praised in front of a crowd while public praise makes others cringe. Some people prefer verbal praise, while other would love to receive a card or email with glowing comments. 

3. Make Praise Profuse and Persistent

Offer praise, rinse, and repeat. Praise your staff for small deeds done well, excellent on-going performance outside the spotlight, and for big-time successes. Make praise a regular practice and make it timely. 

This is one of the reasons why corporate recognition programs are ineffective; quarterly or yearly praise separates the praise from the praiseworthy task. By the time the recognition is given, the employee has moved on to something else and the energy of the moment has passed. 

4. Make Praise Pure

There is an old management theory that states that criticism should be sandwiched between statements of praise and encouragement to soften the blow. But I say, why ruin a good sandwich with a bad filling? Instead, offer praise apart from performance improvement feedback. Let the praise and the one praised bask in the glory of a job well done, and save the critique for later.

Here’s an example of how to keep your praise pure:

Don’t: Hannah, your presentation to the Board was great. I can tell you spent a lot of time preparing for it – your thoughts on ageism and hiring were insightful. Well done! Next time, you may not want to rely so heavily on PowerPoint…

Do: Hannah, your presentation to the Board was on target! I can tell you spent a lot of time preparing for it – your thoughts on ageism and hiring were especially insightful. Well done!

Well delivered praise makes people feel like they are really and truly seen and appreciated, and in turn these employees will become motivated and invested masterpieces of the company. 

Allie Rice