03 Jul

The Art of Giving and Receiving Praise

Praise in the workplace. We sometimes forget to give it. We’re often at a loss on how to receive it. But as leaders, we need to understand how important both are to our own careers.

Think about it: one of the most frustrating events we regularly experience in our careers is achieving some high, difficult goal…only to have people not even notice, or treat it like it’s no big deal. Yet at the same time, when acknowledgement and praise are actually bestowed upon us, what is our go-to response?

“Oh, it was nothing…”.

Are you seeing the problem here? Instead of taking the win—smiling and saying “thank you”—we almost go on the defense, arguing that no, this incredible thing that we’re insanely proud of having achieved is not, in reality, anything worth celebrating. What’s up with that?

Receiving acknowledgement and praise for our accomplishments is a normal—and important part—of any career. Most of us understand that in theory. But here’s the problem: while it may make us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside when our work is complimented, it can make us embarrassed or uncomfortable on the outside. Unfortunately, it is the outside that people see: they take their cues from our outward actions, and respond accordingly.

Too many people tend to downplay any praise of our accomplishments. But dismissing positive feedback can negatively affect your career. Again, people take their cues from your reactions: if you treat your achievements like they’re no big deal, your employer and co-workers may be inclined to believe you. That means similar future “wins” are likely to be even less impressive: you’ll need to accomplish more just to receive the praise you’re getting now.

That’s not a good formula for getting ahead.

A recent post in CNN Business pointed out that how we receive praise can be as influential to our careers as what we did to earn that praise in the first place.

The post quoted Rebecca Aced-Molina, a coach and consultant who works with leaders to build their confidence and purpose: “Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most essential skills for creating trust and meaningful relationships at work, but it’s one of the hardest things we as human beings have to tackle.”

Note that she mentions giving and receiving: as leaders, we have to concern ourselves with both sides of the equation. These days, it seems that positive feedback has gotten a bad rap in our society—and that’s unfortunate. Even a cursory look at the evidence shows that positive feedback is one of the most effective tools you can use to help your employees feel confident, successful, and satisfied—all of which lead to better performance.

Positive reinforcement makes people feel appreciated; it shows that you’re paying attention when they get it right, not just when they screw up. It incentivizes them to work harder because they will get praise, not just because they might get fired otherwise. A simple, sincere “Great job!” can build trust, drive loyalty, and increase retention.

And the best part? It costs you nothing: praise is absolutely free.

Take a look at a list (like this one or this one) of successful people, and you will find people who work hard, fight for their ideals, and make sacrifices to succeed. What you won’t find is people downplaying their accomplishments. Nor are they apt to dismiss the work of others, if such work contributed to their success.

Success often lies in having a vision and working to achieve it. But the difference between being successful and being a successful leader is often about how you treat others on that path. Both giving and receiving positive feedback are important skills that anyone can learn … and every leader needs to.

So praise often. And when given an accolade, embrace the praise with grace and confidence. Someone noticed what you’ve done right: take the win.