Harvey Mackay: Praise can equal a psychological raise
December 23, 2008
One of my all-time favorite aphorisms is: “A pat on the back accomplishes more than a slap in the face.” Recently I saw it stated a little differently: “A pat on the back, though only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results.”
In this uncertain job market, with employees worrying about the health of their companies and their own futures, encouragement is especially reassuring. In tough economic times, when companies need to re-evaluate raises and bonuses, a positive word can ease tensions and promote productivity.
Send a signal that someone is incompetent or bad at something, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to improve. Hey, if the boss already thinks you are an idiot, do you stand a chance?
However, encourage that person and he or she will work even harder to excel. It is possible and desirable to criticize errors without destroying an employee’s confidence. A person may not be as good as you tell her she is, but she’ll try harder thereafter and achieve even more.
When was the last time you said any of the following? “You did a terrific job.” “I’m sorry.” “I was wrong.” “I forgive you.” “I believe you.” “I appreciate all that you’re doing.” “You make me proud.” If you can’t remember using these phrases, you’ve got some retooling to do.
The late Mary Kay Ash, the cosmetics giant, was a champion motivator and a “people person” if I ever met one. She put it this way: “The two things people want more than sex or money are recognition and praise.”
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The cost of giving sincere praise is next to nothing, but a recent study has found that the payoff can be huge.
Employees want to be praised because it means they can be seen as competent, hardworking members of the team. Good managers want satisfied, motivated and productive staff members.
A Personnel Today survey of 350 human resources professionals found that the greatest factor in workplace productivity is a positive environment in which employees feel appreciated. The survey reports that two-thirds of the respondents said they felt a lot more productive when they received recognition for their work, while the remainder said they felt a little more productive.
Just feeling productive can be motivating in itself. When workers don’t feel productive, frustration sets in, according to 84 percent of the survey respondents. Twenty percent said they felt angry or depressed when they weren’t able to work as hard as they could.
Here are three tips for providing praise effectively:
– Be sincere. Give praise only where it is due. Workers can spot phony sentiments, and resent the implication that they are so gullible that they would fall for such flattery. The Greeks have a saying: “Many know how to flatter; few know how to praise.” Learn the difference.
– Give public praise. Your goal is to encourage the employee to keep up the good work, while simultaneously encouraging others to put out greater effort. Praising in public is a good way to raise general morale. Praise loudly, blame softly.
– Be specific in your praise. Name exactly what it is the employee has worked on and what he or she has accomplished. Don’t just say, “Well done, John.” Remember that if the employee feels the praise isn’t genuine, it could have a negative effect.
Praising your staff may lead to an unexpected result: You, the manager, will come away with a renewed sense of confidence in the people who report to you. After all, if you hired someone to do a job that they are not suited for, you have to assume some of the responsibility for their shortcomings. It’s up to you to help them build the strengths and competencies necessary to deserve some praise. Then delivering those compliments is especially sweet.
I learned an important lesson about praise from my father, contained in a letter that he’d written to my sister and me to be read after his death. He reminded us of some of the things he wanted us to remember in our relationships with others.
One point he stressed was how important it is to compliment and praise others so we can never feel sorry for something left unsaid. I have taken that advice to heart, and I know it has been as important in my business life as it has been in my personal life.
Mackay’s Moral: People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be.