You may have heard before that a key to building your employees self esteem is to praise and praise often. This sounds like great advice, but there is a right and a wrong way to offer compliments.

Strangely enough praise can be a double-edged sword. It feels great in the moment when we hear applause or we are told that we’ve done a wonderful job on something, but this is not long-lived.

Consider this scenario, a child grows up hearing how beautiful she is.  What are the long term implications of this? She may begin to tie up all of her self-worth in being beautiful. She may get upset when she is not told she looks beautiful and this is not simply her being “high maintenance.” She may have no sense of personal self-worth and have to look to external sources for almost constant validation. Imagine how it might go if this person received criticism. It could be devastating.

I recommend skipping the praise and instead offering positive feedback.  

And I like the idea of feedback because here you are focused on behaviors and skills of the person, not a specific achievement or attribute.

Let’s say you have an employee that has just completed a year-long intensive project that had lots of ups and downs and they managed to get it done on-time without having to overly involve you in the process. You are delighted with the outcome.

When discussing the project with the employee, instead of offering praise (“Great job on the project”), focus on some behavior or skill that was important in completing the project and offer feedback (“You are really good at adapting to any changes that come your way.”)

This can be a tricky distinction at first, but can you begin to see how the second comment builds self esteem and the first is really just a temporary accolade. Plus, being adaptive to change is an important skill and you’ve just communicated this to your employee and that you think this behavior was important in their success.

What kind of behavior do you think they’ll be focused on in the future? Done right, positive feedback is good for your employees and your business.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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