Most Managers Miss The Point When It Comes To Praise

By Gavin Meikle, Head of Learning and Founder of inter-activ

The ability to give feedback is a crucial communication skill however in many organisations the word feedback has been associated with criticism. People are used to getting told when they have done something badly but few get a pat on the back when they do something well.

When I raise this issue with managers I normally get the following responses:

- Why should I praise someone for doing something they are paid to do?

- If I praise people they will get an over inflated sense of their own importance

- I don’t get praised so why should I praise my people?

All these responses are perfectly understandable but miss the whole point about effective praise giving. The purpose of giving praise goes much further than just making another person feel good (although there is nothing wrong with that!)

Specific praise is one of the most powerful ways I know to leverage behavioural change. Think about it for a moment, imagine if your boss took you aside after a management meeting and said something like this. “Fred, I just wanted to say how well you handled that meeting. I was particularly impressed with the way you asked clear focussed questions to draw out what the customer’s requirements really were. I could tell he was impressed and I am confident that we have a much greater chance of winning the account. Brilliant! Keep doing that.”

• Did you know what it was that you did that your boss was impressed with? - Yes of course you did.

• Did they explain briefly the impact of your behaviour? — Yes they did.

• Do you know what they want you to do in future in relation to this behaviour? — You bet!

• Are you more likely to do this again in future? — absolutely!

This type of specific praise acts as positive reinforcement and significantly increases the chances that this observed behaviour will be repeated.

So let’s summarise:

Most managers don’t give enough praise, or if they do give it, it is vague and non-specific. Contrast the typical “Well done you did a great job today” praise with the example above. The specific praise has much more impact and is directed at a specific behaviour that you want to encourage.

Specific praise needs to include

a) A clear specific example of the behaviour to be reinforced

b) A short explanation of the immediate effect(s) of that behaviour

c) Positive encouragement to repeat the behaviour in the future

The purpose of praise isn’t just about making someone feel good. It’s a powerful way to improve performance by drawing an employee’s attention to a useful behaviour and encouraging them to repeat that behaviour in the future.

Gavin Meikle is the owner of inter-activ learning and development, a Southampton based consultancy specialising in effective face to face interpersonal communication and presentations. He can be contacted at gmeikle@inter-activ.co.uk or by phone on 07810 645309.

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