How to Praise Your Employees

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Scenario: "Dude, you are the frickin' smartest frickin' person to walk the frickin' Earth. Wow! You-so-so-A+-intelligent! A+! Booyah!" Let's say Anuj just developed the most super-sexy-fabulous project report for your client, that's now raking in loads of cash. Now if you want to train an all-world superstar-in-the-making, how would you praise Anuj?

  • a) "You are the most amazing person in the world!"
  • b) "Your project report was super awesome. I admire your extremely hard work and perseverance!"

Untrained managers would go: A! But since you're a super-dope manager, you'd guess the answer is B. And, you'd be right. The rule of thumb to tack onto your managerial wall:

  1. Praise how your people work -- not their intelligence.
  2. You'll build superstars who continually rock the world with you.

"What's wrong with praising intelligence?"

You know those sayings:

  • "You're super smart!"
  • "You are the best designer, ever!"
  • "I could never hire anybody who can paint like you can!"
  • "You're crazy-sexy-awesome!"

The problem: You build perfectionists who lack motivation, abandon perseverance, avoid risks, and drain performance. According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck (courtesy of GK):

Labels, even though positive, can be harmful. They may instill a fixed mind-set and all the baggage that goes with it, from performance anxiety to a tendency to give up quickly. Well-meaning words can sap children's motivation and enjoyment of learning and undermine their performance.

To Positively Praise Your People...

Two simple rules:

  1. Don't praise them (directly).
  2. Praise their work.

That is:

  • Instead of: "You're a great designer! Yay!"
    Go: "You designed a really fabulous kitchen decor."
  • Instead of: "You're so smart! Booyah!"
    Go: "You were amazingly dedicated to your client."
  • Instead of: "You're like an eagle: You just soar, and soar, and soar! Yay for you. Oh-tay!"
    Go: "I love how you interact with our customers."

When you find your employees doing something well, instead of praising their intelligence -- as tempting as that might be -- tell your fabulous people:

"Yo! Yo work = super-fab!"


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Posted on March 15

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