June 20, 2022 Randy Hain

The (Often) Neglected Practice of Praise

I was reminiscing this morning, the day after Father’s Day, about the many gifts and life lessons my 83-year-old father Steve has shared with me over the years. He is quiet and humble in the way he carries himself, preferring to let his actions and good example do his talking for him. I observed one of his timeless lessons about a week ago, when he got on the phone with my 24-year-old son Alex and praised him for his recent six-year employment anniversary at a well-known global retailer. The praise for my eldest son’s big accomplishment was specific, encouraging and he ended the call with “I am very proud of you”. Alex has high-functioning autism, but he responded to this warm and well-deserved praise as we all likely would with a big grin and warm thank you to his papa.

This call between a grandfather and grandson may not seem remarkable, but I wonder how often we miss opportunities to praise the achievements, good work or other positive behaviors we see from the people we encounter each day. Think beyond just our immediate families and consider our work colleagues, teachers at our children’s schools, employees at the local grocery store, servers at our favorite restaurants or the local police officers who keep our neighborhoods safe as relevant examples worthy of more praise. There is certainly plenty of condemnation, criticism and negativity to be found, but it seems that sincere and positive praise may sometimes be lacking in today’s world.

This is what good human beings should be doing…and maybe we can all do better.

Inspired by my father’s example, I set out to be much more intentional with my praise in the days that followed. Here are some of the good people I encountered last week and the praise I tried to share as I sought to emulate my father’s efforts:

  • A client of mine had a breakthrough with a difficult team member as she followed my advice to get more personal and vulnerable instead of only focusing on work. She reached out via email right after the conversation to let me know of the employee’s positive reaction and we hopped on a call so I could hear her excitement. I listened a lot, sincerely praised her for the breakthrough and encouraged her try again as soon as possible with her peers and other members of the team. She was rightly proud of herself and I merely recognized this big step forward in her growth as a senior leader.
  • The Publix near our home does a wonderful job of employing adults with special needs. As the father of a son with autism, I am always grateful to see this when I enter the store and have the opportunity to engage with these amazing people. I sought out the store manager last week and shared my family’s gratitude for his refreshing openness to providing these often-neglected members of society with gainful employment and praised him for his efforts. He seemed both grateful and surprised, sharing that he rarely received acknowledgement for what he described as “just trying to provide jobs for good people” and he reiterated his strong commitment to continuing his store’s efforts in this area.
  • My younger son and I traveled to Chicago Saturday and Sunday for Father’s Day weekend to see the Braves play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. We had an amazing time.  We also had a great experience with our hotel, especially with Charles, the elderly gentleman who greeted guests as they arrived and did whatever he could to make people feel welcome. He possesses an incredibly warm smile and inviting personality that reminded me of my own father. I shared with the hotel manager praise for Charles’s work, attitude and thoughtfulness towards his guests. I also thanked and praised Charles personally, specifically letting him know why.  He responded with a huge grin as he said “It is truly my pleasure and I hope you will be back. You just made my day. Also, Happy Father’s Day!” We will be back and it will largely be because of this kind gentleman.

I shared these little snippets, inspired by my father’s good example, to illustrate how simple and easy it is to slow down and recognize others with deserved praise when we are more intentional. It cost me nothing, but made a positive difference to the people who heard it. I don’t have this all figured out and have a lot of work to, but I am encouraged by the results and will keep trying. I would also suggest a few best practices to embrace when ramping up your own praise efforts:

  1. Be measured and appropriate. Not everything (or everyone) is amazing. Be discerning and make it sincere and sticky by looking for those behaviors, positive attitudes and even small examples of good work that grab your attention and deserve a kind word of praise. “He who praises everybody, praises nobody.” – Samuel Johnson
  2. Be specific. You are in a restaurant, for example, and wish to praise your server. Compare “you are doing an awesome job!” to “The food was fantastic today and you did a great job serving our large party.  We love your warmth and hospitality! Would you mind inviting the manager over so I can share our great experience with her?” Letting people in any of your daily encounters know exactly what was worthy of praise is likely to encourage them to continue that behavior.
  3. Be intentional. Look for opportunities, as I tried my best to do last week, for ways to be more intentional in sharing praise with people you encounter. Put down the iPhone, take a deep breath and look around you more often. Live in the moment and think more deeply about who has been placed in your path and how they are showing up to you and what they are doing. Thoughtfully consider how you could more frequently make someone’s day and sprinkle a little goodness in the world with the practice of more appropriate praise.
  4. Quiet or escalated. Sometimes quiet one-on-one praise for the deserving person is all that is needed and is more than appropriate. But, there are times like I referenced above with Charles, when we want to escalate the praise to let someone’s boss or others know of the great work we witnessed and make sure it gets appropriately noticed and rewarded.

It is easy to become trapped in our mental prisons, focused on our own worlds and not paying adequate attention to the people around us. As is the theme of the Something Good blog post series, I hope you will see that increasing your own praise efforts will have a positive ripple effect in those who receive it from you. It will serve as a helpful counter to the negativity and harshness which can be part of everyday life. Your thoughtful praise may create a spark in someone that could inspire them to do truly great things and maybe pass along sincere praise to others. My dad Steve has been doing this well his whole life and I know first-hand the difference he has made in the lives of others.

Our reward will most likely be a smile from the recipient and their obvious pleasure that someone noticed and took the time to acknowledge something worthy of praise. We can all likely do more in this area…let’s give it a shot and make someone smile today.

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