I’m reading Shawn Achor’s book, Big Potential, How transforming the pursuit of success raises our achievement, happiness and well-being. I was really struck by his strategies to use praise and I think it’s valuable information for anyone with direct reports, children, co-workers, coaches or partners. Achor views praise as a prism rather than being a praise miser (one who keeps praise to themselves). He said, ““By denying the light of praise, we extinguish it. By bending the light toward others, we magnify it.” It is such a beautiful sentiment. I think it’s similar to the analogy that lighting someone else’s flame won’t diminish our own flame. Praise can be used in useful ways to transform a family, team or organization.
Here are Achor’s strategies to praise:
Stop comparison praise. Ugh! Guilty as charged! I have done this countless times with my children over their lifetime. And yet I know that as Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So, what makes me think that saying my daughter is the best writer or my son is the fastest on the team is really authentic praising. I never realized it but if you tell me I’m the best coach then, I have to wonder, who else has coached you or am I just the “best” coach today. Anchor exposes not using superlatives like “best, fastest, prettiest, thinnest, strongest, and smartest.” Much like stopping to say “why” in the last few years as it can be accusatory, using superlatives is a difficult habit to break. Achor says “Don’t prop people up by kicking others down.” This is a new realization for me and a new awareness I am trying to embrace.
Spotlight the right. This is catching things that are going right. Just as focusing on everything that is wrong brings the whole team down, focusing on what is right can bring the whole team up. We are walking around with a negativity bias so it’s much easier to focus on what is going wrong. I’m trying to be the person who is finding what’s going right. This ties into the Losada Ratio: The ratio represents the number of positive interactions with an individual, divided by the number of negative interactions, measured over a period of time. As an example, if you made five positive comments for every negative comment you made when talking with a team member, your ratio would be 5:1. For employees to feel engaged and happy they need at least a 3:1 ratio, for a marriage it’s 5:1. As Achor espouses, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
Praise the base. This is about acknowledging and sharing the love. So, if your team put in the work to get the project over the finish line and people are acknowledging your presentation, be sure to point out all the work the team did to get you there. As Achor wrote, “When we help others become better, we can actually increase the available opportunities, instead of vying for them.” Teams don’t win championships without supporting the whole team to get there. And while I write this, I think about my brain trust of friends who read this blog for me for feedback and edits, Thank you Susan, Janine, Susannah and Natalie, you are the reason this blog is still here after 12 years! Acknowledge those that got you here.
Democratize praise. Spread it around. It’s like paying forward to some degree. When the woman behind the desk at the swim center tells me to have a nice day, or I hold the door for someone at the coffee shop and they pick up the coin that fell from the man’s wallet and on and on and on. Kindness and praise is infectious; so spread it around.
Unlock the hidden 31. As Achor wrote, “31% of people are secretly positive but do not express it at work. Instead of targeting the negative people, get the hidden 31 to start expressing their positive outlook and transform your culture.” There are terrific systems like Globoforce where folks can give positive feedback or Kudos to co-workers, direct reports and CEOs’. These types of systems can help unlock the hidden 31. Figure out a way to get these folks spreading their praise and positivity.
The families, organizations and teams that figure this out can go far as is illustrated in the book’s title Big Potential. Praise is a critical piece to transforming the culture into one of mutual appreciation and growth. How do you praise?