Using words to motivate, the art of praise.

One of the basic premises of psychotherapy is the words we hear and experience cause us harm or otherwise, and are key to positive ways forward.  It is their positive use that can bring about change and our future development and success.  It is this principle that drives my desire to use positive praise with children, colleagues and learners throughout all my work.  And it probably does yours too.

In a work culture of always minimising risk, seeking continuous improvement and addressing urgent issues, we can often apply our time disproportionately to the negatives, when positive approaches are by far the best way of achieving our aims.  But it can be difficult without a determined effort to embed such practice and maintain the high levels needed for maximum effect. That said, it is a basic element of all our work – line management included.  In the workplace it can be the single most important and effective motivator you have.

Positive praise costs nothing but time and a little effort.  I hope this article will recharge your positive praise batteries!  Because, be honest, most of us are now thinking that we could do better with colleagues, team members and/or those we supervise.  We may fall short because we can be too busy, otherwise preoccupied, or we may even struggle to identify positives from various situations and scenarios. Some of us just aren’t used to being in such positive environments either, whether this was our experience at home during childhood, at school or in previous jobs.  If you have low self-esteem yourself or you feel embarrassed about giving praise, you will find it more difficult to give and receive it.  I have worked with people who are very hungry for praise and no amount ever seems enough for them.  On the flip-side, some people might actually be deeply suspicious that you are after something in return.  Well, you are, happiness and motivation and job satisfaction. That’s all!

There are some basic principles, questions and guidelines that help me to ensure I practice what I preach:

  • People who feel they are noticed, appreciated and respected are more motivated than those that don’t.
  • Science tells us that when we hear something we like, a burst of dopamine is released in our brains. It’s a neurotransmitter related to feelings of well-being and joy.
  • As a manager or leader, be more available. Walk around, share break times with colleagues, talk and listen more.
  • Don’t let anyone get the impression that something or someone else is more important than them at that very moment.
  • Do it often. Praise three times more than you criticise or identify areas for improvement. That’s called the Losada Ratio.
  • Match your method to the individual or team. Some will love the attention, profile or a bit of fuss, others not so much, so a quiet word, text or email will do wonders!
  • Are some team members more likely to get praise? Why is this?  Who is missing out? Is your team culture the right one?

Remember these simple ideas, and use them as much as you can.  You will find the results are transformational, and will support your whole team to behave in the same ways.  Which means you will have created a culture of praise that could last for a considerable time, and one that will carry on when you are not there.  Try it.

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