Praising People: The Trick Is Keeping It Focused on the Positive

Photo by

Blanchard Leader Chat has quickly become one of my favorite blogs. The insights are nearly always on-point and targeted to helping all of us (regardless of our official position in the org chart) to become better leaders.

Case in point: this recent post on The 3 Times When You Shouldn’t Praise People at Work”:

“Catching someone doing things right is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things a manager gets to do. It shows people that you’re paying attention, that their work matters to you, and most importantly, it shows that you care about them.

“However, there are three times when it is not appropriate to praise someone. In fact, praising in any of these three instances will often end up doing more harm than good. In all three cases the deciding factor isn’t the situation, but instead, it’s the attitude of the manager.

  1. When you don’t really know what’s going on.
  2. When you’re using praise as a way to get something in return.
  3. When you are hoping to use praise as a substitute for something else — a pay raise for example.”

Be sure to click through to get the full picture on those three reasons.

When you negate praise with a request

The second point is particularly important. Another favorite blog, Management Craft, also wrote on this, saying:

“In an attempt to soften the request or ease into the conversation, we start with praise and transition into the request. The problem is that this approach totally negates the honesty of the praise and makes us look like manipulative fools. We are not – for the most part – manipulative fools but using the praise-request sandwich makes us look this way. In an effort to try to relate we alienate.”

This praise/request/praise formula isn’t bad enough, but not nearly as destructive as the praise/constructive feedback/praise sandwich. At least with the former, we know someone values our help. The praise/feedback/praise sandwich, though, just leaves us confused – am I doing a good job or not?

Article Continues Below

The solution? When you praise employees, keep it focused on the positive. When you need to correct an employee or an employee’s work product, keep your comments focused on that constructive feedback. A recent SmartPulse survey said 73.15 percent respondents give direct feedback, meaning “they get the message, but I sometimes soften it.” It’s fair to soften feedback, but don’t mix the praise/feedback message.

Does your direct manager give appropriate praise or is it couched in terms of making a request or providing feedback? If you manage others, how to praise others or give feedback?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.