Why is it that giving sincere praise is so challenging for so many of us—even (or perhaps especially) to our significant other? Is this a lost art in our culture, or have we humans always operated like this?
What is so difficult about praising someone for something they’ve done, whether the act was seemingly insignificant or really huge, say, holding the door for you when you have an armload of files or, perhaps, creating world peace in our time. “Thank you. I really appreciate your kindness. That was very thoughtful of you.” Is that truly so hard to say?
But acknowledging someone for something they’ve done seems relatively easy compared to praising another for who they are and what they mean to us. I might graciously thank Shonnie for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, but how often am I willing to tell her how much I appreciate who she is and how glad I am that she’s in my life when she’s performing no action at all?
And accepting praise is just as difficult for many of us. How many times have you seen someone let an acknowledgment ricochet right off rather than take it in? “The counselor of the year award goes to Mary Jones, who is one of the most valuable and loved staff members in our organization. Let’s have a big round of applause for Mary!” And Mary reacts, “Aw, shucks, folks, it weren’t nothing.” Many might consider this humility. I suggest, however, that such a reaction is really self-deprecation and demonstrates and inability to authentically value oneself.
Frankly, I think we humans thrive on praise; it nourishes us, tells us we’re on the right track and let’s us know we’re appreciated by those around us. Sincere acknowledgments can also remind of us of who we are and what we’re about in this world.
A four-step program for giving your partner praise
- Notice when your significant other does something you really appreciate.
- Clear the chatter in your mind. You don’t have to say just the right thing. You won’t lose points in the relationship game. In fact, you’ll probably gain them, though that’s not the primary objective here.
- Be sincere in your acknowledgment. Speak from your heart.
- Give your partner an ample opportunity to take in your praise before moving on. If you think he or she has deflected it, you might gently ask, “Did you get what I just said? I really meant it.”
A three-step program for accepting praise
- When your partner (or someone else) is acknowledging you, stop for a moment, breathe deeply and take in the meaning of the words being spoken.
- Accept what is being said as the truth.
- Smile and say “thank you.”
Below are five tips from on giving sincere praise from Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project. Useful in your all your relationships–friend, family, co-worker and romantic.
Five Tips for Giving Good Praise
by Gretchen Rubin
Be specific. You read this in a lot of parenting advice: praise means more when it’s specific than when it’s general. “What a beautiful painting!” is less gratifying than “Look at all the colors you’ve used! And I see you used all your fingers with the finger paints. You’ve really made your picture look like a spring garden!” This is true, for adults, too. “Great job,” is less satisfying than an enumeration of what, exactly, was done well.
Acknowledge the actor. The Big Man has a habit of saying something complimentary without acknowledging that I had anything to do with whatever result he’s talking about. For example, with this household project, he looked around once and remarked, “This really turned out well.” As if some deus ex machina had wrought these changes overnight. Aaargh.
The effusiveness and time spent in giving praise should be commensurate with the difficulty and time-intensiveness of the task. If a task was quick and easy, a hasty “Looks great!” will do; if a task was protracted and difficult, the praise should be more lengthy and descriptive. Also, you might bring up the praise more than once.
Remember the negativity bias. The “negativity bias” is a well-recognized psychological phenomenon: people react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. For example, within marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act. So if you want to praise someone, remember that one critical comment will wipe out several positive comments, and will be far more memorable. To stay silent, and then remark something like, “It’s too bad that that door couldn’t be fixed,” will be perceived as highly critical.
Praise the everyday as well as the exceptional. When people do something unusual, it’s easy to remember to give praise. But what about the things they do well every day without any recognition? It never hurts to point out how much you appreciate the small services and tasks that someone unfailingly performs. Something like, “You know what? In three years, I don’t think you’ve ever been even an hour late with the weekly report.” After all, we never forget to make a comment when someone screws up.