It's easy to offer and completely free. And it's one of the most significant steps you can take to motivate your co-workers
and clients. It's praise—something so simple and yet so often mucked up.
Good compliments take timing, sincerity, the right frequency, and an awareness about the person you want to recognize. We've
all heard the old adage: praise in public, correct in private. And while this is sometimes true, it's important to realize
all of your team members are individuals, and they may prefer to be recognized in different ways—even privately. To get to
the heart of giving great praise, you'll need to dig deeper into the people you work with—and for—and discover the type of
recognition that speaks to them.
Pay vs. praise: Engage your team
Some managers may feel the biggest compliment they can offer employees is a regular paycheck—and that little else is needed
to keep employees motivated. But Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich., cautions that you get what you pay for—and
true recognition goes beyond monetary rewards. Praise for high-quality work may help create an environment that breeds excellent
employees who are more capable of doing a great job and feeling good about their work.
"Studies show that engaged employees increase practice productivity," says Marianne Mallonee, the hospital administrator and
one of the owners of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo. "You also increase retention. You save money because
you're not losing people and having to rehire and retrain."
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the No. 1 reason people leave a job is because they don't feel appreciated. Let's
examine what a compliment is—and isn't—and discuss ways to improve your praise-giving abilities, regardless of your role in
Begin with simple words of thanks
To start with, it's important to speak your praise. "Sometimes we think our praise but we don't actually speak it," Gair says.
Speak aloud, says Mallonee. "It's easy, and it can make such a positive impact," she says. "We spend so much time trying to
come up with ways to engage our employees, and a simple thank you can be the answer."
Before you praise another person, it's worthwhile to consider your motivation. Our experts agree your goal should be to recognize
and thank someone. If you're praising for any other reason, whether it's to motivate others to copy a star employee's behavior
or to shame clients into offering their pets better care, it's probably best to zip your lip. When it's true, sincere praise
can be a motivator. Insincere praise can be just the opposite—and people can usually tell the difference.
Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, the owner of Halow Consulting in New York City and Wyalusing, Pa., says people have radars that sense
phony compliments meant to motivate, no matter how artfully you phrase your words. That's why he insists sincerity is critical.
"Somebody told me the way to teach my African grey parrot to talk was to talk to my other bird and praise the bird in front
of it," Halow says. "That worked for the bird, but people often see through that ruse."
What are you really saying?
Tone and body language play a huge role in how others perceive our words. Gair says your voice should sound pleasant and happy.
"And avoid the qualifiers," she says. "For example, when you say, 'You did a really good job, but ... ' then the person who's
receiving the praise hears how to improve, not the compliment."
And if you sense your words come from a place of anger, hold your tongue, Halow says. A backhanded compliment can feel much
worse to the person you're trying to thank than failing to say anything at all.
"I know a manager who sometimes just drips contempt. And she doesn't even realize she's doing it," Halow says. "She says things
all the time that are just loaded. And she'd be better off to say nothing at all, because her comments have such a negative
Once you've mastered a warm tone, you'll need to consider what your body language says about your message. To project positive
body language, Gair suggests you step back from the business you're attending, square your shoulders to the person you're
talking to, and make eye contact.
"It's easy to think we've offered sincere praise," Gair says. "But too often we say thanks with one foot out the door, then
turn around and bark an order at someone else. And it doesn't feel sincere."