Sandglaz Blog

How to properly praise team members

Collaboration & Team Management

What better pick-me-up is there than praise for your hard work? Praise can turn a bad day around. It can remind you that although you’re stressed and buried in piles of work, you’re doing a good job. That’s why team members, regardless of their positions, shouldn’t hesitate to praise each other.

Praise and positive feedback go hand in hand. They’re timely, specific comments about something a team member did well. Unlike feedback, praise doesn’t have to be constructive. It can simply be used as a motivational tool to boost performance. Praise is also based on personal judgement, whereas feedback should be factual and issue-focused.

These aspects of praise are well known. But here are some interesting, scientifically-backed tips on how to properly praise your teammates.

Avoid the sandwich approach

All too often, team members have to give each other negative feedback. It’s easier said than done. What if you hurt someone’s confidence and he becomes hesitant to work with you? Meet the sandwich approach. People sandwich criticism between two pieces of praise. They do so to avoid possible consequences of criticism.

It’s a common mistake. At first, it may seem logical that mixing praise and criticism reduces your discomfort and your teammate’s anxiety. After all, starting on a positive note should make both of you happy. Unfortunately, this belief is false. Your discomfort will only grow as you stall from giving bad news. This is partly because praise and criticism are best shared as soon as possible. In other words, don’t wait to tell your teammate she’s doing a great or poor job. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that people effectively accept and respond to criticism if they receive it in a timely manner.

Plus, mixing praise and criticism prevents your teammate from improving. This is because he’ll only focus on the praise. Behavioral science professor Ayelet Fishbach runs an exercise in her University of Chicago class to demonstrate this. She tells half her students to give one-on-one feedback to the other half with the sandwich approach. Despite being praised and criticized, the other half only remembers favourable comments. Ditch the sandwich approach – separate praise and criticism to ensure teammates remember what you tell them.

Praise teammates while they’re working toward a goal, not after they’ve achieved it

Praising a team member for a job well done seems like an obvious motivational tactic. After all, you should recognize someone’s success. But don’t do so after he’s reached his goal. It’s best to acknowledge his hard work while he’s still chasing it, according to a study by Fishbach and her colleagues.

This is true for two reasons. First, praise increases your team members’ confidence levels. A high confidence level helps them enthusiastically pursue goals and, in turn, successfully meet them. Second, a team member will be receptive to suggestions after you fuel her determination with praise. This allows you to suggest new tasks that can improve her final product.

There’s a secret to boosting determination with praise, though. In short, you can’t signal that the person you’re praising has already made enough progress. This encourages your teammate to relax his efforts. You have to stress that though he’s done well, he still hasn’t reached his goal.

Take the example of two students getting 100% on a test. The first student believes she’s made enough progress and no longer has to study. She ends the class with a B. The second student learns she likes studying because it yields positive results. She ends the class with an A+. Make sure to emphasize that your teammate must continue his hard work – which you’ll always recognize – to successfully reach his goal.

Early praise is like the 30% feedback rule. Praising someone before they’re done a project shows she’s moving in the right direction. She’ll no longer second-guess the quality of her work. It also shows your leadership style. You’re guiding team members, encouraging them to apply themselves. You’re not someone who can’t dedicate time to check up on your teammates.

Tailor praise to the teammate’s personality and experience level

You’ve just finished searching for a new team member. She was outspoken and confident during interviews, but seems shy and quiet when she starts work. Extroverts may seem like introverts as they first adapt to a new work environment. Of course, highly-effective teams have a mix of personality types. But it’s important to praise new teammates who initially seem introverted – and introverts themselves – differently than extraverted team members who’ve been with you for a while.

It’s more important to regularly praise new team members than experienced ones, according to a 2012 Journal of Consumer Research study. Researchers base this finding on their study of French classes. The results say that people beginning to learn a language need praise for their efforts. This is because people don’t typically have much confidence when starting something new. They need encouragement. Though it’s still good to praise experienced team members, they don’t need as much motivation.

Whether a new teammate is simply shy or genuinely introverted, you should praise him in a direct manner. This means you must keep praise short and sweet. You could say, “I’m very impressed by the quality of your report. Great job.” Don’t overdo it by getting into the nuances of the report. Most introverts appreciate this type of praise because it’s given in the way they communicate, according to a study by Dutch researchers. Extraverts, on the other hand, are receptive to abstract forms of praise. This means you can discuss your feelings and perceptions about the specific act you’re complimenting

Everyone knows praise is important to maintain a happy team. But learning how to properly praise team members goes beyond the average advice you hear, such as making timely and specific comments. Keep these important tips in mind next time you praise a teammate.

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