According to Meriam-Webster Dictionary, to praise is to say or write good things about someone or something or to express approval of someone or something. Sadly, even with so clear a definition on hand, praise remains a mystery to a great many people. Given the opportunity to provide feedback, we’re much more likely to communicate criticism than approval.
While terms like “constructive criticism” seem to imply that there’s a higher purpose behind offering negative feedback, most attempts fall woefully short. All the recipients hear is that they’ve failed. And negativity only seems to breed more negativity. That’s because we tend to emulate the environment around us. We communicate in the way we are communicated to. We give what we get.
High performing teams use praise to great advantage. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, top performing teams were found to have given each other more than five positive comments for every criticism. Low performing teams, those at the bottom of the barrel in terms of financial performance and customer satisfaction ratings, shared almost three negative comments for every positive one. Praise, it seems, goes straight to the bottom line.
If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Criticism introduces self-doubt and hesitation. It makes us less likely to take chances for fear of disappointing someone again and revisiting the land of failure. So teams and organizations characterized by primarily negative communication move slower, innovate less, and miss out on opportunities for growth.
Teams and organizations that share a lot of praise, however, benefit from more vibrant working relationships. They enjoy working together and are therefore more likely to collaborate. The positive emotions elicited by praise cause us to work harder, stretch farther, and achieve more. We crave praise, so we tend to repeat behaviors that garner positive feedback.
There’s precious little praise floating around these days, though. It’s bad enough that news and social media outlets feed off of negativity; but so much of what we communicate to each other day to day winds up being derogatory. It’s going to take some focused effort to reverse our downward spiral.
So I’m issuing a challenge.
July has 31 days. I’m challenging you to make a focused effort to praise for 31 days. Each day of July, I want you to identify one individual who has done something good – something praise worthy – and recognize them for it. Choose a coworker, boss, or team member. Pick a classmate or family member. Identify a friend or even an enemy. Just find someone each day of the month and praise them for something.
You don’t have to advertise this. There’s no need to let the world (or even me) know what you’re doing. The best praise is personal anyway. It’s delivered one on one, with sincerity. That said, I would like to suggest a few guidelines should you choose to accept my challenge.
- Be specific. Offer more than a “good job.” Praise is most effective when the recipient knows exactly what they did to receive it.
- Get personal. Let the recipient of your praise understand why you appreciate them. That means letting them know what they (and what they’ve done) means to you personally.
- Let the praise stand on its own. Any positive comments you deliver will be lost if accompanied by criticism. Even if you have suggestions for improvement, save them for another time. Let the good news work its magic.
There it is. The gauntlet has been thrown down. For 31 days, let’s turn the tide. Let’s start an avalanche of positive feedback and see what happens.
Are you with me? Will you step up? Do you accept the challenge?