Catching someone doing things right is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things a manager gets to do. It shows people that you’re paying attention, that their work matters to you, and most importantly, it shows that you care about them.
However, there are three times when it is not appropriate to praise someone. In fact, praising in any of these three instances will often end up doing more harm than good. In all three cases the deciding factor isn’t the situation, but instead, it’s the attitude of the manager.
When you don’t really know what’s going on. Offering general praise without any specific examples highlights the fact that you aren’t paying attention and you aren’t really sure what someone is working on. Instead of being a positive, this type of “you’re doing great” praise only serves as a reminder, and not a good one.
When you’re using praise as a way to get something in return. This can be as obvious as buttering someone up, or it can be as subtle as using praise as a reward. You don’t want to use praise as a carrot, and you don’t want to withhold praise as a punishment. Praise when it is used like this is a form of coercion. People will smell this out and resent this type of backhanded control. Eventually it will come back to bite you.
When you are hoping to use praise as a substitute for something else—a pay raise for example. People want to be recognized and know that you care, but they also want to be paid. You need to address each separately. Praise can enhance the good things that are going on in a work environment but it won’t cover over issues such as pay, growth opportunities, and workload balance.
Praise when it is done right should be fun, light, and spontaneous. It should be as natural as breathing. If you find yourself over-thinking praise, wondering how it will be received, or what the person will think and do as a result, take a minute to double-check your motives.
Genuine praise focused on the employee is always welcome. Using praise as a means to your own ends is a subtle form of manipulation. Don’t cross the line. Use praise the right way. Show genuine appreciation and let people know that you really care.