“The acknowledgment of effort has to be tailor-made. People pick up on canned compliments, especially if they hear the same things being said to other people. Nothing is more effective than sincere, accurate praise, and nothing is more lame than a cookie-cutter compliment” (Bill Walsh).
PRAISE IS POTENT. It’s productive. It makes a difference for good. And while it’s true that our words to others must take the form of criticism now and then, when it comes to sheer power, criticism is no match for praise. “Praise can give criticism a lead around the first turn and still win the race” (Bern Williams). And yet, as Bill Walsh’s comment reminds us, if praise is to be of any benefit, it must meet certain criteria. Our praise of others must be “tailor-made” for them.
Specific. When was the last time you felt really encouraged by a compliment that you knew the giver had handed out to four other people in the room in the exact same words in the last ten minutes?
Accurate. When was the last time you felt really encouraged by a compliment that you knew, and maybe the giver knew, was false? If you’re a liar, does it make you feel good to be praised for honesty?
Sincere. When was the last time you felt really encouraged by a compliment that you knew was an attempt to butter you up by somebody trying to get on your good side? To be of benefit, praise must not be a “technique.” It must truly be about the recipient, not the giver.
When the power of praise is being discussed, however, it never fails that some individuals will say this: “Well, yes, I know that praise in general is powerful, but personally, I don’t matter enough to anybody that my praise would make any difference.” But if we think that, we need to think again. Even if there was not a single human being who knew us enough to want to hear our praise in particular (and the truth is, most of us have far more than one or two such people), we ought not to underestimate the good that can be done by praising those with whom we have no special relationship. Even with total strangers, “random acts of praise” can be truly remarkable, both for the recipient and the giver. Just try it and see. Find something that you can specifically, accurately, and sincerely praise about the next person you meet in public today, and see what happens. It’ll be good!
“The applause of a single human being is of great consequence” (Samuel Johnson).