Day 98: The Man and the Act of Praise P.2; ‘Original’

‘When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths, it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce’

-Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu.pngSo yesterday we discussed the importance and necessity of honest praise in our lives, both giving praise and receiving praise. Though we may have our own personal barriers or obstacles to the road of becoming effective praisers, we cannot deny the myriad benefits. Genuine praise can, at its greatest, affect the path of a person’s life. It could be the gap between fear of failure and the satisfaction of achievement. It can dramatically alter a person’s self-image and even at its very basest, it can at the least make someone’s day better. Praise also changes our mindset, turning us into more positive people who focus on the best of others. This makes us happier, more charismatic, and increases our circle of influence and friendship. When we praise someone we are engaging in celebrating the very best of our qualities and promoting the kind of world we want to live in through positive reinforcement.

But, these benefits can only come from genuine and sincere praise delivered effectively and personally. Empty praise on the other hand, either undeserved, vague, or with hidden agenda, given at the wrong time or in the wrong manner, can be absolutely destructive. It creates mistrust between you and the other person and it can actually devalue their contribution, skills, or qualities. It is important, therefore, to be mindful and practice how we give praise. Today’s post in my series on praise will discuss what we should keep in mind when giving praise and how to deliver our message of positivity.

Opportunities to give praise abound so we are never short of practice material. We can praise our friends, our family, coworkers, and even complete strangers. When we give generously we receive generously in return and often you will find that as you increase your practice, more opportunities will arise because you will naturally draw more people to you by exuding that positivity in your mindset, actions, and behavior.

How to Find Opportunities for Praise

The first step might be the hardest of all. We have to begin to reprogram our minds to stop focusing too much on the negative. As mentioned this is a remnant of our ancestors’ survival instincts to isolate and commemorate negative experiences so as to prevent them from repeating. The best way to avoid this is to be fully aware and mindful when we are with others. Observe as much as you can as sharply as you can without passing judgement on what you see. You will begin to see so much more positivity in the world and you’ll easily find something to praise someone on if you just look a bit more earnestly.

Think of how the people around you affect you in a positive way. We might not always be able to find something specific about a person to compliment. However, we can think of Two Men Compliment.jpghow our day has been affected by their presence. If someone’s cheerful greeting each morning when you go in to work helps put you in the right mindset to tackle the day, let them know! If you look forward to working with a particular coworker because of their diligence and attention to detail, what better way to ensure this continued positive behavior than with some encouragement in the form of praise. When we focus on positive traits we reinforce them in the people around us and promote them both internally and externally. It speaks not only to the character of the one displaying the trait but also in the person honoring it. When we think this way we are reflecting on what qualities and traits we desire and admire, which in turn can help us become better people as well.

Remember to speak up. I would like to believe that the world is not as stingy with praise as we may seem, and that we do in fact notice every day plenty of wonderful and positive things to recognize in our fellow man. But maybe we are a bit too tongue-tied to express these praises. There could be a couple reasons why we may hesitate to vocalize our thoughts. Shyness could certainly be a factor. Cultural repression. Long-term relationships are often guilty of this as well. If we focus first on complimenting even the small things to those who are closest to us, we can slowly become more comfortable with offering praise to others. And remember that the things that add up to your day with someone special are often not simply coincidence. Your date may look a certain way because they know your preferences and wanted to look their best for you. Maybe there’s a special reason that you failed to notice for why it seems to always be your favorite food for dinner whenever you’re feeling particularly down. Someone cares for you and is trying to anticipate your wants and needs as a sign of affection. Take the initiative and let them know you notice and care and appreciate it before they even have to ask.

Realize that the person being praised and the person you are speaking to do not necessarily need to be the same. Sometimes we may find opportunities to praise others George Costanza.gifwhen they are not around. For example if a friend helps you move into a new place and, at your housewarming, guests admire and appreciate how nice everything looks, do not hesitate to let them know what a great help your friend was. Now there are three benefits in this exchange. The first is that you are again taking the time to notice positivity in your world and sharing it with others. For the person being praised, if you were to tell them this later on, it shows that you so admired and appreciated their contribution that you are still mindful of it and happy to share with others. For the person who heard of your friend’s help, it shows them that you are someone who can recognize good in others and it may inspire them to do the same. Plus they’ve now found a new moving helper. Another way ‘indirect praise’ could benefit others is in giving us an opportunity to speak about others that isn’t idle gossip or harmful rumors. Look I get it. The truth is we love talking about other people. But we are already surrounded by enough gossip and tabloid trash that we forget that we can also do this in a positive way. If we must think of others and speak of them, perhaps we can rewire our negative minds to share the stories that inspire and motivate us versus those that just bring others down. You could even work as messenger and spread praise you hear from others about the person. Perhaps during a meeting you hear your boss praise a fellow coworker’s contributions who happened to not be in the meeting. Imagine how appreciative and motivated they would feel to later on hear from you that they were positively mentioned in the meeting. Praise doesn’t necessarily have to always originate from you but you should still be a messenger of positivity.

How to Give Praise

Now that you’ve conditioned yourself to not only find things to praise others on but to recognize appropriate opportunities to do so, it is time to practice your delivery.

When offering someone praise, try to keep these certain things in mind.

  • Their name
  • The specific thing you saw them do, where, and when
  • To be sincere

If we can attach our words of praise to them personally, it certainly carries much more weight and significance. To say ‘hey guy, great job in the meeting today’ isn’t quite the same as ‘hey Jim, great job in the meeting today’. Remembering someone’s name makes us seem more personable and genuine and attaches the praise very specifically to them. It is also a sign of respect and acknowledgement. You recognize their contribution and you respect them enough to learn their name and go out of your way to let them know what they did that you particularly appreciated.

If praise is not specific, it can seem insincere, and if the praise is sincere, you should know what to say to be specific. The relationship between these two aspects is inseparable. Forcing yourself to be recall as specifically as possible what it is you want to praise helps you remain sincere in your efforts. It could be too easy to simply say ‘oh you look nice today’ but this carries no specificity, no meaning, no sincerity. If however, you particularly appreciate how the red dress draws attention to your date’s lips, or perhaps how her hair seems to be made of angel’s threads, by jove let her know that specifically. Remember that some people may have difficulty accepting praise as much as giving praise but a genuine and sincere compliment is much easier to swallow because they know and believe what you say.

If at all possible, try to attach a particular quality, characteristic, or trait that you admire to the action you are praising. For example, if you would like to praise a coworker on how well they handled the meeting because they displayed strong leadership, add that to your praise. Let them know what it is that spoke to you on a value level. Perhaps your coworker never saw himself as a leader but your praise, attached to a specific quality and action displayed during the meeting, may be all he needed to cement that into himself. This again strengthens positive qualities not only in the people around you but in yourself as well. Similarly, by recognizing that you are someone who admires leadership, you are telling others that you are someone who may possess that quality as well. After all, it takes one to know one!

Weird Compliment 1.gifOne last piece of advice, while generous praise is certainly an admirable trait and act of positivity, try to remain reasonable and sensible. Do not praise simply for the sake of praise. Giving a compliment to someone who does not deserve it could make you look insincere and could make them feel even worse about themselves. Giving a compliment that doesn’t make sense could just make you look weird. I get that we want to be unique and want to make sure that our praise sticks out, but no need to get too Weird Compliment 2.gifcrazy original. Telling someone you admire how they slice a steak could give you some sideways looks. Telling someone you like how they sleep could make you seem like a creep. Telling them you like how they stroke their kitty will definitely get you kicked between the legs. So you know, praise with discretion and at your own risk.

Day 98

Man: 78 Loneliness: 20

Day 97: The Man and the Necessity of Praise P.1; ‘Flattery’

We are motivated by a keen desire for praise, and the better a man is the more he is inspired by glory. The very philosophers themselves, even in those books in which they write in contempt of glory, inscribe their names.’

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero.PNGThough this was inspired by the daily prompt, I find that there are too many aspects to praise worth discussing that rather than create one mammoth post, I will break them into parts of a series which I will write over the next few days.

Praise is often much too scarce in our daily lives. There could be cultural, economical, personal, or relational reasons for this but the fact remains that praise, when genuine, sincere, and deserved, is necessary both as the giver and the receiver. Honest praise is a powerful motivator and an effective way to recognize achievement and accomplishment. It strengthens and lionizes positive traits and behaviors both for the giver and the receiver of praise.

Why We Don’t Praise as Often or as Freely

Yet for as beneficial as they may be for everyone involved we are oft stingy with giving praise and struggle with receiving it. In general, reasons for this could vary.

For one there are often cultural differences when it comes to viewing compliments. For example I have found that people with Asian backgrounds such as myself often struggle with accepting compliments from others. We may be more generous in giving praise, but often times we are trained very early on never to accept any we receive. We preclude any of our efforts with a downplay of our skills and abilities. ‘Oh I cooked but I’m sorry it’s not very good’ or ‘Please come into my house but I’m sorry it’s such a mess and so uncomfortable’. Naturally most guests would feel inclined to then rebuff these comments with positive praise but again we are conditioned to argue Joy Luck Club.jpgand deflect these efforts. This can come off poorly for those who are not accustomed to these cultural differences and it makes those of us raised in this manner very uncomfortable receiving praise even when deserved because we were never taught how to, only how to reject it.

In terms of economics, praise can be seen as a commodity whose value is only directly related to its scarcity. Therefore we may be inclined to give less praise because we do not wish to devalue our opinion. Praise is often also equated to power and position, and in an effort not to put others above us, or at the very least preserve balance, we fear that praising others will ‘value’ them greater than ourselves.

There could also be personal reasons. Aside from my background I am also naturally a very shy person. I do not particularly enjoy social situations and if I already struggle with just the simple timing and delivery of a small ‘hello’, how am I supposed to be skilled enough to deliver an honest and earnest compliment?

bad-reviewsThere are also natural psychological barriers to praise. Our brains are designed to focus on the negative and place more weight on negative experiences as opposed to positive ones. This is an evolutionary necessity that helps us identify and isolate negative experiences so as not to repeat them. Fire bad, sharp edges hurt, wild animals don’t like to be petted, etc. This unfortunately means in our not-so-survival centered world, we are still more focused on the negative. We tell 10 people of negative experiences versus the 1 person we tell of our positive. We are more comfortable complaining to management than we are to call them over to thank them for a wonderful experience.

Honestly, we may not give praise as often as we should simply because we’ve lost the practice in our relationships as well. This is especially true in long-term relationships when we become so comfortable and so used to our partners that we forget to recognize the extra effort they put in every single day. The act of praise, like anything else, is a skill that can be sharpened or dulled depending on the frequency and extent of use.

Why Genuine, Deserved Praise is Necessary in our Interactions

Compliments and praise, more than insult and criticism, get results. Studies have shown that both as a motivator and as an educational tool, positive praise is more effective and more valuable when it comes to encouragement and incentive. This is particularly true for the young and for the novice. While the more experienced and more mature can claim to have moved on beyond the need for praise and/or recognition, the young and the inexperienced crave this as an acknowledgement and affirmation that they are indeed on the right track. Experts are primarily concerned with measuring progress and results. They have Encourage Young.jpgalready done something and want to know how to improve and gauge if their progress is satisfactory in terms of size, scope, and timescale. Novices on the other hand have nothing to compare themselves to and are more concerned with their commitment and suitability. Can I do this, do I want to do this, am I suited to do this. As such compliments are a more effective way to affirm their decisions and choices to encourage and motivate them to continue on. If you are ever in a position to help someone who is feeling discouraged or unmotivated, remember that sometimes an honest word of praise can be all that it takes to fill the gap and allow them to bridge the space between failure and success. And as a parent remember that it can often be much more valuable to focus on catching them doing something good for once.

Praise is a great way to soften otherwise antagonistic relationships. It will come to no surprise for people who actually know me in real life to say that I have an oftentimes contentious relationship with my father. This stems from having two very stubborn very headstrong individuals in one house who believe that they know best and most. But that’s beside the point. I remember that growing up, the majority of our interactions were my father telling me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. This may have been valuable advice but I was too naïve, too proud, and too resistant to change to really absorb and appreciate it. Because of this, my perspective of my father has always been as more of a detractor than one who would support or encourage me. I’m not saying I need daddy’s approval. I haven’t grown up with that much of a crippling insecurity. I just mean that praise is an effective way to equalize relationships in a way in which I could probably accept more of my father’s advice because I didn’t feel so far below him. This understanding can apply to all relationships. Perhaps you find that with those you are less than close with you are more likely to criticize them, which further strengthens a negative association between the two of you. A simple act of praise can at the very least, thaw an otherwise icy relationship.

1337.pngSimilarly, the act of giving praise can strengthen and increase relationships as well. Compliments reflect respect, and relationships are built on respect. It is simple mathematics. Though we value the constructive criticism of our peers, especially those close to us, I believe it stands to say that most people get close to begin with because of positivity and recognition. It is through that shared act of respecting each other and each other’s works that allows us to enter a relationship where we can be otherwise critical. Praise implies humility, which is a trait we often admire in others, especially people we would like to follow. So a good leader should be comfortable giving praise and recognizing others without fearing for their own power or position. It is also a great way to attract more people and attention. I know that I have built strong, genuine connections through this blog, for example, because of a mutual exchange of encouraging and positive praise. But it is those same people whose opinions I now trust and respect should I ever seek or receive constructive criticism because I know that we have already established a positive rapport.

‘We pay too much tribute to a few human insects when we let their wrong-doing paralyze our faith in humanity. It is a lie of the cynics that says ‘all men are ungrateful’, a companion lie to ‘all men have their price’. We must trust humanity if we would get good from humanity. He who thinks all mankind is vile is a pessimist who mistakes his introspection for observation; he looks into his own heart and thinks he sees the world.’

– William Geroge Jordan

Praise tempers our own natural cynicism. As I mentioned previously, we are biologically programmed to focus on the negative. While this was an important trait for our survival yesterday, it can be a detriment to our relationships today. If we only ever focus on the negatives of the people around us we can feel burdened and heavy, with little to no hope in any redemption. Actively seeking things to praise others with keeps us in a positive mindset that can then carry over into our daily lives and help us appreciate more those around us.

When practiced frequently and with honesty, integrity, and enthusiasm, the act of giving praise can elevate our relationships and our own self-awareness and identity. Furthermore when we can be specific about the positive traits we admire and therefore seek in others, when we recognize these traits we elevate our praise to a celebration of that which we find admirable and noble, versus simple and forgettable flattery.

In tomorrow’s continuation of the series we will discuss how to give praise with integrity and purpose.

Day 97

Man: 77 Loneliness: 20