You already know to praise more than you criticize. But there are subtler ways to convey your satisfaction with employees’ effort or performance.
More than 100 years ago, William James (1842-1910) identified the key to motivating people. “The deepest principle of human nature is the desire to be appreciated,” the famous American psychologist said.
Expressing admiration for others makes them feel appreciated. Sincere praise can be as simple as saying, “I like the way that you handled that customer” or “I was struck by how well you kept your composure in front of that tough audience.”
Another form of praise is to ask an employee to train a newcomer in a certain skill or contribute to a high-profile project. Such assignments communicate your approval.
Listening to an employee without interruption reinforces your admiration. By maintaining eye contact, ignoring distractions and taking notes, you show that you place high value on what you hear. Nodding in agreement further underscores your positive response.
Handwritten notes deliver a power all their own. Jotting a few sentences to describe what impresses you about an employee—and mailing it to the person’s home—can heighten the impact.
There’s something particularly motivating about opening an envelope at home and reading a glowing note from an appreciative manager. When your employee thanks you the next day for your thoughtful letter, mention that you’ve already placed a copy in that person’s personnel file.
Praise in a straightforward tone. Don’t leaven your comments with what you deem cheeky cynicism (“It’s about time you finally figured this out.”). Any edge to your remarks risks negating the pure feeling of appreciation you want the individual to take away.