Thursday, 21 April 2016

Harmful Praise

Most people thrive on praise.  Praise leads to the repetition of the behaviour that garnered the praise in the first place; this behaviour could be good manners in a toddler, a teen independently tidying her room,  or landing a large client at work.  Irrespective of age, praise makes people feel that what they have done was worth the effort.  How, then, can praise be harmful?

Firstly, the manner in which praise is given may be damaging in the sense that it makes the person receiving the praise feel uncomfortable.  Not everyone enjoys being in the limelight – often referred to as introverts – public praise will likely cause these individuals embarrassment resulting in the behaviour not being repeated.  This is not to say that an opposite behaviour will then be followed: considering the large client example above, the person embarrassed by public praise, such as mention during a department meeting, will not stop garnering clients, but may not reach for the prestigious ones or would rather assist someone else in getting these.  For these introverts, getting the job done is more important than outward praise.  However, as all people do like a pat on the back, sending an Email of praise would be far better received and would likely encourage the go-getter attitude.

The second instance of harmful praise applies mostly to children: using praise to motivate.  Parents and teachers want their children to achieve and be polite, and praise them for attaining these goals.  Who needs more praise than the little tyke who is struggling, right?  It depends.  When children struggle with something, they know they are not good at it and receiving continual praise of little milestones in the efforts to motivate results in the praiser losing credibility and often the child’s self-esteem is lowered. 

Please note continual praise of little milestones can be harmful.  If the umpteenth attempt to tie shoelaces has been unsuccessful, praising that the right shoe went on the right foot doesn’t cut it as this was already legitimately praised when that portion of the task was mastered.  Rather than looking for areas to praise (which can be difficult), be honest with children and praise their efforts over the outcome.   

Continual praise may also result in praise becoming addictive where a child requires praise to do anything, including everyday chores. As with any ‘addiction’ a pat on the back will eventually not be enough; this is when praise turns into bribery and tangible things are required over the voiced praise.

Apart from loosing credibility, continual unreserved praise can result in an inflated self image which runs the risk of being seriously hurt when moving into an environment that offers praise less quickly.  Teaching someone to link their self worth to the amount of praise they receive results in low self esteem.

In order for praise to have the desired effect of repeating behaviours:
  • Be mindful of the personality and determine whether public or personal praise would be better received.  
  • Ensure the degree and time of praise are relevant to the effort put in the task, not necessarily the outcome, to remain credible and appear genuine.  
  • To avoid creating a ‘praise addict’ vocalise praise rather than provide items.
Above all, praise from others should not replace your own commendation of your hard work.