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In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
A friend of ours told us that recently someone wrote a letter of commendation about one of her employees. She reported that it was so rare to get such letters since most people were negative and critical with their comments.
Why such a drought of praise?
Where does this constricted view of life come from?
What is the positive impact of praise?
Why are we so slow to praise?
There are a multitude of reasons for our reluctance to praise others and here are a few.
- We are competing with others. We envy their abilities or personal power, feel that they may detract from what we are and have, and so like Cinderella’s sisters, put them down or withhold praise.
- We are not generous in our spirit. Like Scrooge we “Bah humbug” the need for praise. It is not in our mental range to see the good in others due to a basic cynical or pessimistic view of life (often because we carry deep personal hurt).
- We are not grateful for what we have. When we are stingy with our praise we lack a sense of the abundance in our lives and are unable to celebrate the goodness that we already have.
- We have a distorted view of humility. I heard a leader say of his star employee,“I don’t want to praise her too much she may get a swollen head!” (Please read the blogs on Humility)
Whatever our reason for withholding praise we forget it’s the positive that motivates, not the negative, and it’s the positive that builds strong relationships, collaboration, the best results, and close and healthy relationships.
Since when did genuine praise “spoil” another person?
So how can we shift to a more proactive climate of praise?
How can we praise now?
Think of the times in your life when someone important to you, parent, mentor, teacher, or colleague, commented positively on your contribution or character. Instead of making you overly proud or arrogant it spurred you on to greater things.
So then let praise
- Come from an authentic place. People sense when you are “kissing up” to them and trying to get something from them with flattery. But genuine praise has no hidden agendas. It expects nothing in return. It is entirely focused on the object of praise.
- Be something you just do. It is amazing how uplifting it is for us to bestow praise on others especially in unscripted and spontaneous moments. Intentionally set this as a goal each day.
- Be great for your health. John Tierney in the NY Times writes about the positive effects of praise and gratitude. “Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.”
- Be the driver to take stock of your life. Sometimes it takes the shock of facing one’s own mortality to experience gratitude. Playwright Dennis Potter (who was dying from cancer) remarked during his last television interview that he was living so intensely in the present that he noticed the beauty in ordinary things that he’d hardly paid attention to before. He captured this beautifully in his comment: “The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.”
- Be directed towards yourself. A friend of mine save notes from people who praised her. From time to time she reviews these affirming statements to remind herself of the value of her person and contribution.
The Results of Praise
There is a positive cascading impact of praise as seen where
1. The leader is the group’s emotional guide. Daniel Goleman writes, “The leader sets the emotional standard.”
Your positive disposition (optimism) spreads through your organization/community and influences both morale (a dark or sunny emotional climate) and productivity (defined as “getting it out the door”).
2. Gratitude increases positive feedback. Next time you do a performance evaluation start from a place of gratitude for the other person. See how your disposition towards gratitude impacts the tone of the session even if you have difficult things to say to others.
Take the Challenge
1. When did you last express your gratitude to someone who has impacted your life in ways big or small? Go ahead and do it now.
2. Measure your gratitude level. Martin Seligman developed a measure of gratitude at
3. Why wait until a person’s obituary before you praise them?