As we start the new year, what better way to inspire your team and build stronger relationships with coworkers and clients than to communicate sincere words of appreciation? As Mark Twain once quipped, “I can live two months on a good compliment.”
Good intentions count—but delivering your commendation well is even better. Consider the following tips to make your words most welcomed.
Praise people when you don’t want anything. Offering praise should not be a prelude to more work. “I really like the way this report is organized. Do you have a few minutes to show me how to put the same kinds of graphics in mine?” is likely to bring a frown rather than a smile. Make praise an end in and of itself, not a transitional thought.
Praise individuals rather than groups. Group praise leaves individuals feeling anonymous. Groups don’t do work; individuals do. People feel better about their contribution when you recognize them individually by calling their names. Not: “I want to thank your group for its contribution on the project that turned out so well.” But: “The project was finished ahead of time in a very tight window and within a skimpy budget—to the client’s total satisfaction—thanks to the creative work of Luis, Andrea, Harvey, and Misong. I appreciate the contributions each of you made on this effort.”
Be specific in your praise. Specific praise sounds more sincere than vague generalizations. Let other people know that you understand what they had to do to get the good rating. Not: “Miguel, you handle irate customers with finesse.” But: “Miguel, I observed how you handled that last customer. When he started yelling, it took a bit of restraint on your part to keep your cool. Heather said you even offered to deliver the customer’s merchandise yourself on the way home. That’s going to eat into your personal time. I appreciate that extra effort.”
Create a scene. Typically, people go through life thinking, “Don’t make a scene.” When the coffee at the local diner arrives cold, you just move along and don’t make a scene. But when someone’s due for praise, that’s another story. He needs time to enjoy the comments. If you don’t believe it, recall praising comments from your past: a positive performance appraisal; a client testimonial; a thank-you e-mail or letter for work on a neighborhood committee; recommendations on LinkedIn. How many times did you read the comments? How many times did you replay the conversation in your head? People deserve time to bask in the limelight. Elaborate on what they did to get the good rating.
Comment on the deed rather than the person when the issue is performance. When you compliment people by labeling them, they don’t necessarily know what they did to get the good rating. As a result, they may feel that the praise is insincere. And if they enjoyed the praise, they will lack direction regarding what they did well and how to get a repeat performance.
Not: “Leonard, you do good work!”
But: “Leonard, the proposal you submitted to Frank Hathaway was excellent. The benefit statements were well written and unique to that customer situation. Looks like you put a lot of effort into customizing it.”
In the second statement, Leonard will feel deserving of the sincere, specific compliment on his actions.
Credit the person rather than the deed when the issue is character or personality. At times, you want to compliment people on their good judgment, their ethics, their supportive attitude, or their disposition: “Denise, I wish all our supervisors had your good judgment.” If your observations are based on several situations over a long period of time, the comments will not come across as insincere flattery. Just be sure to mention a few of the specific situations that have led you to the praising conclusion.
What motivating compliment has inspired you recently? What was it about the wording or delivery that made the commendation seem sincere, inspiring, or memorable to you?