Why are managers and supervisors so stingy with praise?

Thank you employee appreciationKen Blanchard has a favorite question he likes to ask audiences whenever he is teaching about the power of recognition.  He asks, “How many of you receive too much praise at work?”  It’s a bit of a trick question because Ken knows after asking hundreds of audiences, that very few people ever raise their hands.  In fact, most people go on to say that the only time they ever get feedback from their manager is when they do something wrong.  For these people, the best they can hope for is, “no news is good news.”

Why are managers and supervisors so stingy with their recognition?  Especially when we all know how important it is to be appreciated. As William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology said, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”

My guess is that most managers don’t realize how little praise they give employees—or more importantly, what their praise-to-criticism ratio is.

John Gottman, a Harvard psychologist who focuses on marital relations, is famous for identifying that to maintain a healthy relationship, it is important to have a praise-criticism ratio of at least 5:1.  That means five positive mentions for every negative.

How are you doing with your level of praise in the workplace?  If you’re out of practice, here are a couple of tips.

Be timely.  Here’s one time when it is okay for a manager to “shoot from the hip.”  As soon as you notice someone doing something worth mentioning, take the next step and actually call them out for it.

Be authentic.  Don’t go overboard, just honestly express your feelings.  You are not trying to “do” something, or manipulate the person or experience.  Instead, you are just showing that you noticed and appreciate what they are doing.

Be frequent.  Don’t worry that all this praising will go to their head—or that they will feel like you are overdoing it.  Remember Ken Blanchard’s experience asking thousands of people his favorite question. No one has ever said they were praised too much and they just wish their boss would cut it out. That’s not to say that it won’t seem like a lot of praising in your mind.  But remember the 5:1 ratio necessary for a healthy, positive relationship.

Don’t be stingy

Everyone loves to be recognized and appreciated for who they are and the good work they do.  (Don’t you?)  As long as it is honest and from the heart (and free of any ulterior motives) you really can’t overdo it.

Try it this week—and as an added bonus, I think you’ll find that giving others praise, recognition, and appreciation will make you feel better too!

18 thoughts on “Why are managers and supervisors so stingy with praise?

  1. Love this! “As William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology said, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.””

    I tell people this *all* the time!! All anyone ever needs is to know they are appreciated. Acknowledgement and appreciation does wonders for humanity, in all aspects of life.

    When I was in management, I felt this attitude was key and always made a point of thanking employees and staff and praising/complimenting them frequently. I find this also holds true in any relationship: with your spouse, children, co-workers, even the cashier at your local grocery store. Acknowledging someone’s efforts and saying ‘”Thank you” and/or “well done!” really *does* make a difference for all involved. 🙂

      • You’re welcome, David. Your post and tips are a great reminder for managers and supervisors to better their relationships with their employees. Well done! 😉

  2. Very practical thoughts.

    I have found that in order to give genuine praise I need to spend the time to notice. Some leaders don’t know what praise to give because they fail to stop, look and listen. Once they take the time to be with, and listen to, their team they will have ample reason to give meaningful praise.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts on praise in the workplace. -Jack

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  4. Yes! Investing in our people, building their confidence, and appreciating all they do (even the little things) shows them how much we value them. As you say, we cannot overdo authentic praise and appreciation.

  5. Yes! I am particularly found of finding ways to incorporate the 3rd party acknowledgements….in other words…..acknowledging the successes of individuals in front of others!

  6. Check out these related stats just published from the latest Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/08/employee-recognition-programs.html

    –Just 23 percent of employees who have been recognized at work say they plan to search for a new job when the economy improves, compared to 51 percent of those who have never been recognized.

    –A vast majority—89 percent—of those who have been recognized feel appreciated at their job, compared to 17 percent of those never recognized.

    –Most—76 percent—of those who have been recognized by their employers love their jobs, compared to 37 percent of those who haven’t been.

  7. A great reminder for all our relationships! Margaret Wheatley reminds us that we will see what we are looking for. So, if we are looking for errors, we will find them. Your rule of thumb reminds us to look five times harder for strengths. Not only will the leader highlight more of the wanted behavior but the person will feel valued – a powerful combination!

  8. This is a great article! The funny thing is, no matter how much you preach these concepts to managers many still never really understand this concept. I see the “put-downs” and “negative reinforcement” all day long by co-managers; no matter how much I try to persuade them to change their ways of thinking by acting and speaking differently to show them, this concept never sinks in. I never give up and the words of Ken Blanchard are always in the back of my mind. Change takes time and persistence to be successful.

  9. Thanks for this great article. Praise in any form is very important and it can be made even more powerful through praising who a person is being as well as what they are doing. Recognising and calling out things such as courage, discipline, tenacity, etc has an amazing affect on the level of connection and engagement you can build with people. Acknowledging at that level shows a deeper listening.

  10. Great article David. I think one of the reasons that managers and supervisors are stingy with praise is because we don’t spend enough time helping them learn how to give praise effectively (in my experience it’s quite easy to give praise in a way that’s seen by the recipient as manipulative or condescending). We need to help managers learn how to; a) prepare the praise b) be specific about what they are praising c) show genuine interest d) let the praise stand alone and (as you have said) e) time it well.
    (for more detail see http://managing-employee-performance.com/5-ways-to-give-praise/ )

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  13. Loved Joan’s response. It seems to me when I read “One Minute Manager” that Ken was proposing to offer praise in the same way we’d offer criticism: quick, to the point, and IN PRIVATE. It has been a long time since I’ve read that book so I might be a bit off target. I’m a teacher and a coach of teachers and for years now I’ve noticed a destructive effect of quick praise (as well as public criticism). Usually an evaluation of a kid’s idea results in the rest of the class thinking the discussion is closed. Sometimes the praise actually has the effect of shutting kids out from sharing for fear that everything they do is evaluated. I agree with the heart of this message that we thrive on recognition but also agree with Joan as she suggests that others in the organization (including the praisee) might feel that they are being manipulated.

    • Hi John–thanks for picking up on this conversation thread and for the caution that praise should not be used as a way to manipulate another person’s performance. I also appreciate you sharing your experience from the classroom. In both cases, I think we need to consider what is our INTENT with praising to make sure it is not just a more sophisticated form of manipulation. Ken Blanchard uses the terms “genuine” and “authentic” to get at this idea, but I’m thinking that there are other words that would work well to get at the serving “no strings attached” element we are touching on. If others have suggestions, please add them as a reply.

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