How to celebrate someone the right way

Many of us focus on our weaknesses.  We focus on improving in areas where we don’t currently excel.

PCI is a strengths-based company.  We encourage our associates to identify people’s strengths, what they are good at and what they are passionate about, and put those strengths into action.  

Consider the amount of effort and energy it takes to improve a skill from “poor” to “fair.”  Now, imagine instead using that same effort and energy to improve a different skill from “good” to “great.”  

This is where the magic happens.  

Which is one of the reasons that recognition at work is so important.  

As leaders, when we identify and praise someone for what they are doing well, we bring attention to their strengths.  This motivates people to continue to learn and grow in these areas.

Yesterday and today, we are looking at some lessons from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  While the author’s intended audience is parents, several of the lessons are applicable more generally, including this one on how to give effective praise.  

Not all praise has the desired impact.

Imagine being told: “You’re a great ___________” (fill in your job title).”  Or, “You are so thoughtful.”  Or, “You are a rock star.” 

The problem with statements like these above is they don’t tell us what we did right and therefore we can’t build upon it in the future.  Recognition like this is too generic and fails to land.

To give effective praise, Adele and Elaine offer a simple, three-part formula:  

1: Describe what we see.  Imagine a video camera capturing the scene.  We want to describe in detail what the person has done.

2: Describe what we feel: “It makes me so happy to work with someone who demonstrates this level of follow-through.”

3: Sum it up with one word: “That’s what I call excellence!”

Being specific provides insight for the person being praised about exactly what they did that was noteworthy which motivates them to do it again in the future.  When we affirm someone at their best, it gives them something they can remind themselves of during times of doubt or discouragement.  

When we share how we feel and how the person’s behavior impacted us, it cannot be argued with or denied as it is our subjective experience. 

The other benefit of this approach?

It requires us to really look, really listen, really notice, and then say aloud what we see and feel.  

In short, this practice requires us to be more aware.  Which is the key to a richer, better life.

Two other suggestions from Adele and Elaine:

1: Avoid the type of praise that hints at past weakness or failure – i.e. “I never thought you would be able to solve that problem.  But you did.”

2: Avoid praise that starts with “I’m so proud of you …” which shifts the focus from their achievement to our pride and what they need to do to make us proud.  Note: this advice is similar to what Carol Dweck offers in her brilliant book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Instead, we may say, “You must be so proud of yourself” which affirms the person.

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Reflection:  When I give praise, do I tend toward generalities, or do I share the specifics of what I see and feel?

Action:  Be proactive about recognizing someone today.

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