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The Right (and Wrong) Way to Praise Employees

Your intentions are good, but the way you're currently going about praising your team could be doing more harm than good.
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The road to hell, we all know, is paved with good intentions. Take praise, for example. You have every desire to be an amazing boss who appreciates her employees. So you lavish on the praise whenever they perform well. What could possibly be wrong with that?

A couple of things according to psychologists. Your impulse to let your team know they’re valued if right of course, but going about praise in the wrong way ends up doing more harm than good, studies show. So when you do tell your employees what they’re doing right, avoid making these two common mistakes. 

Stop Mixing Feedback With Praise

You’re a nice person and while you know you need to correct your employees mistakes and offer them advice to improve in their work you also don’t want to make them feel bad. Your natural response to these conflicting desires is probably to mix feedback with praise. Bad idea.

On her The Brain Lady blog, psychologist Susan Weinschenk explains what the research says about this technique. "Valerie Shute analyzed hundreds of research studies on the use of feedback, and she reports that the best feedback separates objective feedback from praise," writes Weinschenk, who says this conclusion meshes well with other research on motivation.

"People don’t need your praise to keep going, and switching to praise takes the focus off of intrinsic motivation and puts it on extrinsic motivation.This may actually decrease the desire for mastery," she notes. "Combining feedback on what the person did incorrectly and what needs to change with praise can be confusing to the person receiving the feedback."

Stop Praising Ability

Your people are rock stars. So of course you tell them that. But science says that telling your team how inherently smart or able they are, can actually backfire (as a side note, the same thing apparently goes for what parents tell their kids).

"Studies show that when we are praised for having high ability, it leaves us vulnerable to self-doubt when we encounter difficulty. If being successful means you are ‘a natural,’ then it’s easy to conclude when you’re having a hard time that you just don’t have what it takes," explains Columbia’s Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Instead, she suggests, you should “praise aspects of your employee’s performance that were under his control. Talk about his creative approach, his careful planning, his persistence and effort, his collaborative attitude. Praise the process, not the person. That way, when he runs into trouble later on, he’ll remember the process that helped him to succeed in the past, and put that knowledge to good use.”

Are you currently making either of these mistakes when you praise your team?

 

 

Last updated: Nov 18, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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