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The Problem with Praise

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Mon, Mar 11, 2013 @ 03:50 PM

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The word appreciation refers to recognizing or assessing values and distinctions. It is to recognize the difference in someones behavior, as in, I appreciate your newest insights, Just like you would appreciate the difference between fruits and vegetables.

The key to appreciation is that something has to be labelled or "differentiated" to be appreciated. In other words to appreciate something gives it value; just like when we determine the value of a home to go up in value, it has appreciated.

Given this distinction, half hearted compliments and flattery do not qualify. As a motivational speaker I have seen hundreds of association or corporate staff appreciation events that fall flat because they end up substituting prasie for genuine appreciation.

Praise is based on judging someone's effort. It is more about what you feel about what others do. To say, You did a great job on that project is praise. While to say, your succint direction, patience with difficult clients, long hours and dedication on that project made a difference, this is appreciation.

Praise often goes hand in hand with criticism. Often, great job is followed by and next time...

Appreciation rings to be so much more authentic because it is relevant to the specific actions and behaviors involved.

Staff praise is usually good but it can easily be interpreted as manipulation. Staff appreciation isn't a ceremony or a generic ritual but a personal, specific way to help people remember their strengths and what worked.

I once saw a motivational speaker from The institute of HeartMath in Boulder, Colorado. Her motivational speech talked about their study that found that positive emotions like appreciation produced increases in salivary immunoglobulin, an important contributor to a healthy immune system.

When employees are craving (even depending) on recognition, praise exploits this need by manipulating others to get what we want. Rather than bolstering morale; praise increases others dependence. Performance becomes tied to our evaluation rather than an employees initiative and drive.

Stop lavishing people with praise and start simply observing and reporting back what you saw.  For instance... You finished your report or You handled that difficult customer without getting angry. Halt praise and instead notice behavior without evaluation or judgement.

A truely motivated workforce engages people who feel pride in what they do but not because it's tied to others judgements. Behavior for the sake of productivity instead of  looking to leadership for a verdict is more real, long term and satisfying. Praise also reduces recognition to what can be seen and measured and ignores the thoughts, values and goals behind the activity.

In short, praise motivates ( manipulates) people to get more praise, instead of a commitment to the work itself.

The next time you go to praise someone, instead of tying it to behaviour, involve the person decision making and appraisal of their effort. Ask, what was the hardest part of that project? What were your hurdles? How did you handle it? This inquiry motivates more initiative.

The result is instead of fishing for praise, people work because they want to work.

I was a motivational speaker for a parks and recreation conference where they genuinely ( very detailed) recognized specific members for their contribution. It was memorable, meaningful and people left the motivational speech/ staff appreciation bursting with pride.

“Praise and compliments are tragic expressions of met needs.”
Marshall Rosenberg

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