So what is the big deal about praise?

Praise pleases people. The bottom line is (ultimately) that we all feel better about what we are doing if someone notices – somehow it makes it more worthwhile. Praise shows appreciation and that makes a big difference. It’s a key motivator and costs nothing.

Let me give you a classic example: If you are a mum like me, you probably feel like some of the domestic chores that are all part and parcel of having a family are so insanely dull and yet nobody ever comes home and says “Ooh, the kitchen is nice and tidy!” or “Thanks for making our home look so nice on a Friday”. It’s self-explanatory and yet just a kiss would make all the difference wouldn’t it?

You don’t need to ‘spread it on thick’ (exaggerate). That can make people feel uncomfortable and most people see right through it any way . Finding the right balance between ignoring someone’s talents, efforts or personality traits and overdoing it on the compliment front comes naturally for some and less so for others.

Like anything, practice makes perfect and if you are the type of person that would rather run a marathon in the rain than give a compliment or praise someone, the chances are that your relationships suffer as a result. What a shame, keep reading.

So what can I say?

The Americans would say “Great Job!”, “Awesome!” but to the Brits, this would sound patronising, in the UK we might talk to a Kindergarten child that way but not to an adult.

Same language, culturally, a world apart.

Try these for size, say them out loud or in your head

“You must have worked hard on that”
“I appreciate your support today, thanks”
“It looks like you have spent a fair bit of time preparing for that, the time investment certainly paid off.”
“I loved how you handled that guy’s question about…”

Psychologists claim that positive reinforcement works better than punishment. Thank goodness for that! The carrot works better than the stick in other words and after all, we are adults. Punishments for adults just seems so rediculous to me.

IDIOM “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Meaning that you can give someone an opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to do it if they do not want to. If they don’t see why there is no guarantee that they’ll want to do it.

With compliments and praise,  it is the same. If you try to make someone feel appreciated or a valued member of the team but they don’t think you mean it, then it won’t have any impact on them and they will not respect you, no matter what you say to them.

Don’t worry about making grammar mistakes.

You really don’t need to worry about getting the grammar right, if your intentions are honest and sincere, the words will be much more important that the grammar or pronunciation.

Coco’s Cultural Insight

I tend to make mistakes with du and Sie in Germany, I understand the rules for it but find it really difficult to be consistent with implementing this. I can manage a couple of sentences but then I go off the rails and make mistakes. It annoys me but evidently not enough to change it, so what’s going on? When I talk about this to my clients or friends they often say “Oh don’t worry, people realise from your personality that you wouldn’t want to offend someone”. Well I certainly hope so.

Confession Time

To be totally honest though,  and I must confess that I thought hard about deleting this part deep down I have been raised (in the UK) to treat everyone with respect. For me, respect has to be earned, whereas here in Germany it is often determined by your age and superiority. I have huge respect for people that are brilliant at what they do or obviously older members of the community but I have serious problems saying Sie to someone who is clearly incompetent, rude, obnoxious and less qualified than I am. I think the Germans do to actually.

This mindset is something culturally ingrained, so I suspect that it is this innermost belief that subconsciously holds me back. You can take a horse to drink (teach them the rules) but you can’t make them drink (obey the rules perfectly). I am working on it! Honest!

Perfectionist Workaround

If you feel the need to get praise grammatically correct, why not write a short handwritten note instead?  It can be a card or letter, (any excuse Corinne!) or it can be something as simple and understatement as a Post-it note. There is something about a compliment in writing that makes people feel special. You can cheat when it comes with the help of ‘’ via Windows. Alternatively, you can cheat with one of the following:

“I noticed how you helped that customer today in a wheelchair, you were so kind and supportive, exemplary customer service, it was a pleasure to watch.”

Or better still, make it more of a casual dialogue, like this…

“That client was firing on all cylinders today wasn’t he?”
“Oh yeah, you mean the guy with the broken cable? Yeah, something got his goat all right (smiling)
“You were so patient, that’s incredible, I find it so hard to control my temper when a customer is being as rude as he was. How do you do that?”
“I dunno, perhaps he was just having a bad day” (Trying to make light of it)
“Well I thought that you handled him brilliantly/well/very professionally”
“Oh, cheers” (goes away feeling kind of proud too even though he might not have thought much about it until now)

Notice how this was specific, you mentioned exactly which behaviour or action you were impressed by and ASAP “today”, don’t make people wait for their regular appraisal, the impact is greater if you ‘strike while the iron is hot’. The sooner you mention something the greater the impact.

Letting someone overhear you praising them is also a great way to praise someone, as too is introducing someone in a flattering way. “Meet Caroline, she is the brains behind our marketing and she’s brilliant at it, she is one of the most organised people I know!”

So how does the brain react to praise?

Now we are getting to my own way of thinking, the neurologists think about praise in terms of dopamine, which is released into the brain when we hear something that we like, or achieve a goal, it’s a powerful chemical. Isn’t that amazing that you don’t have to find a dealer, you can just make someone feel good, to give them a healthy fix.

Low dopamine levels can have a negative impact on your motivation, make you feel exhausted, trigger addictive behaviour, mood swings and memory loss. I think you’ll agree that it makes sense to learn how to increase dopamine naturally.

Here are some dopomine boosting foods that you can eat.

More about the dopamine building strategies here 

Praise as a Talent Retention Tactic.

So if praise is so important,  then surely the easiest way to retain your best talent is to stroke their ego with praise. No need to go overboard, but believe me, a few kind words about performance, go a long way.

But it is not just about saying nice things is it? If it was that easy we could just sign up for regular phone calls like the ones from, Ultimately it is not enough to be told that you are good, hard working, efficient, great with clients or a good presenter, you need to really believe it and that is a matter of trust and respect.

That’s a different story altogether.

Try this experiment

Check out the Leadership AdvanEdge Podcast, there John Kenworthy talks about how to earn respect and he had an incredible experiment that I have already done.

The Podcast Details are:

How do I leverage my Influencing Style? The Trust/Respect Matrix


I reckon you should try it out for yourself. Just make a note of all of the people that you would like to respect you more. Perhaps your list includes
a) some existing or potential clients that don’t seem to have as much faith in your abilities as you would like them to have or
b) someone you work with who doesn’t seem to believe that you have their best interests at heart or
c) a member of staff that seems hell-bent or determined on doing things his own way rather than learning from someone who has been there and got the T-shirt or has more experience.

So next to each name, make a note about what you respect or appreciate about them.

Give and you shall receive

The chances are that the names of the people that you would like to have more respect from have nothing next to their name. That’s not a coincidence.

There is a fair deal of reciprocity involved in trust and respect. Have a good hard think about what it is about them that you admire. Perhaps you are in awe of the fact that they keep overtime to a minimum for the sake of their family, or that they have a tidy desk. Whatever it is, find a way of mentioning it. You don’t need to make a ceremony out of it.  Just mention it. If you are not in the habit of doing this, you might get a suspicious look,  but just mentioning it in a genuine way is enough to make someone sit up and take notice. No buts, ifs etc, just the positive mention, smile and that’s it.

Keep it simple and sincere.

The chances are that they will start taking more notice of you and observe you a little closer, they might want to make a better impression and try to return a compliment. Now the aim of the game is not ‘feel-good ping pong’, it is about picking up on everybody’s talents. It is mission critical that your words are genuine, otherwise, you’re heading for disaster. It can be something small or self-explanatory, it all counts.

You will notice that people will appreciate being on your radar and will want to stay on your radar.

So how give praise effectively and authentically?

The top two tips I can share are to be specific and do it as soon as possible. Relating your praise to a particular situation and not just saying good job, but going deeper, makes it more sincere.

By describing what you liked about a specific behavior goes the extra mile. After all it is the impact of that behavior that counts , particularly if it had an impact on the team.

The Five Love Languages

Now those of you that heard my Facebook Live session this Tuesday (28th March) will have heard me talking about the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.As I read, I realised that a lot of it is very transferable to business and leadership.

The five love languages are:

Words of Affirmation (today’s topic)
Physical Touch (clearly something you have to be careful about in a professional situation but even this can be useful if that person is a touchy person themselves)
Receiving Gifts The person at work that puts little chocolates on desks at Easter or Christmas, or brings in cake will relate to this
Quality Time These people will appreciate you taking time to really listen to them and perhaps eat lunch together or go for a walk together
Acts of Service (or little favours)

“If your deepest pain is the critical, judmental words of your spouse, (or boss/colleaugues) then perhaps your love languge is words of affirmation” Five Love Languages”

Who is it in your working environment who struggles with accepting criticism? Perhaps you need to focus your praise efforts on them first.

I won’t go into much detail because the book is a totally worthwhile read and I don’t want to butcher Gary’s theory but you get the idea. We all feel loved or appreciated as a result of different actions. Remember that just because you like to give presents, the person you are giving to might actually be hoping that you’ll just spend some time with them or do them a few more little favours. Read the book. Adapt it to your professional relationships and report back.

Boost your Concentration

If you would like more information about how to boost your concentration then I can highly recommend this article froma blog that I have a soft spot for

soft spot …a sentimental fondness or affection

To summarise about praise then…

So when it comes to praising,  be genuine, don’t wait, be specific and start earning respect by noticing the good things in the people, not just at appraisal time but peppered through your professional life. Little and often is the name of the game.

Praise Giving Tips

Be authentic

Why not come into the Facebook group “Professional English for Women”, where we will be putting together an exhaustive list for a range of different situations.

Facebook "Professional English for Women" - where we get to practice our English

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On a personal note:

When I was younger I used to write a lot of poetry – a few lines telling them what I thought it was about them that made them so special. I would try to write one for my friends or family when it was their birthday, (A word of caution, once you start this all of your friends will expect one, so be careful)

I’m no professional so the words didn’t always flow but the appreciation for those poems was touching and inspired me to write more. When I moved to Germany, I still had the same urge, no doubt they are a grammatical minefield but you can tell that people are really touched by the hugs and sometimes tears.

A hand written note has a huge impact, try it out and let me know how it made you feel to write it (a good excuse to get out a beautiful fountain pen) and how it was received. You can do this for a friend, partner, your children, a colleague or a neighbour.

Children love little notes, why not write them little English notes, using words that they will easily understand.

“I love it when you play so nicely with your sister”.

“Thank you for eating all of your salad, I know that you don’t like peppers much.”

“Grandma said that you called her last night, I think that really made her week, that was so thoughtful!”