Day 101: The Man and the Manliness of Praise P.5; ‘Candle’

‘Virtues are acquired through endeavor, which rests wholly upon yourself. So, to praise others for their virtues can but encourage one’s own efforts.’

– Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine.jpgFor the final part of my series on praise I would like to discuss the act of praise in particular as it pertains to men. I’d also like to issue a warning about the efficacy of praise and the discretion of its use. And finally I’d like to issue a challenge to everyone to become a bit more active in their mindset of praise. We’ve got a lot to go over people so let’s get started.

 

 

The Manliness of Praise

Though I know the majority of my readers are women (as seems prevalent among the blogging community) I cannot ignore the fact that I am a guy and I feel that more men should be able to write and find community and find relevant posts for themselves. And though I may direct this portion towards men in particular I believe there could be benefit in everyone reading this, as it does not necessarily only apply to men and it can also help understand a bit of the male psyche.

I believe that while men may have no issues giving or receiving praise from women, we are particularly restrained when it comes to praising our fellow man. I know I have definitely shared more positive words with women than I have with men and I believe this could be true for many others. The causes for this I think are rooted within our views of masculinity and other men.

See for the most part, guys view others guys primarily as competition versus ally, which is man2man.jpgusually the reverse for women. We are still tuned to want to hunt and provide and fear the scarcity of resources, including praise and success. For many men success, respect, and praise are all ‘points’ to be won and to offer someone praise is to ‘give up’ precious points. Yes, it is true that praising someone is to recognize that they particularly excel either in a particular skill, characteristic, or trait. But success isn’t a game to be won and simply because someone excels in something does not mean there are no opportunities for you to excel in the same thing or something else altogether. The truth of the matter is respect is something we have plenty of to go around and offering praise, while raising one person, does nothing to lower another. In fact the man you are praising most likely doesn’t even think to keep ‘score’ with you so this worry that prevents you from sharing some positivity with your fellow man is just keeping a valuable asset out of the hands of someone who might really need that affirmation.

Further, I challenge men to consider that it is actually the higher man who is able to comfortably, confidently, and consistently offer his fellow men words of praise. Humility, self-awareness, and the desire for improvement are all valuable traits to have in anyone, regardless of gender. Especially for a man who might be hesitant to offer a compliment because of lowering his value I say that it actually shows you to be someone who possesses these three traits. It is honorable for a man to be able to find excellence in others and respect and recognize them for it. Further it shows that he has thought about the traits he wishes to possess and it portrays it in his search for examples of such. Often times offering a kind word can also open the door to improvement. Praising someone for something you admire and wish to also possess can facilitate growth in the greatest way – by finding someone whose example you can follow either in the form of formal tutelage or in spirit.

I also believe that when it comes to men and the manliness of praise, praising another person in particular for their values also reflects positively on the one praising. Remember ‘it takes one to know one’? When you genuinely and sincerely and specifically praise someone for their values or virtues and it is convincing and thorough, you are also broadcasting that you too are someone who recognizes this trait and strives to possess it in its highest form as well. When you can honestly and without judgement or fear of feeling lesser or inferior recognize the great values and traits of others, you are indirectly glimpsing at the greatest version of yourself in various forms. It keeps you focused on your goals and directs your mindset to be seeking and improving on these aspects yourself.

A Warning on the Efficacy of Praise

As powerful and as positive as praise can be, when used improperly it can also be praise.jpgdestructive and have negative effects. For one, remember that praise is first and foremost for the benefit of the one being praised. Any ulterior motive or agenda, wither implicit or explicit, detracts from the value, the worth, and the sincerity of the act. This can jade our opinion of others and make us feel wary or suspicious of any kind words. It also reflects a manipulative and less than honorable image for the one who uses praise for their own benefit. So always be forthcoming with your words and intentions. Sometimes we may also be tempted to offer praise even to someone who may not necessarily deserve it simply because we wish to be kind or perhaps because we think they need it. While the person may honestly need some words of encouragement, if you are not careful to choose something truly noteworthy and simply make something up, you could make this person feel worse than if you had said nothing at all. Remember that the efficacy of accepting and internalizing praise is also predicated on if we believe that we truly deserved it or not. If they don’t deserve praise for that particular thing but you still wish to say something positive, choose something else. Undeserved praise serves no one in any way. And finally, in regards to back-handed compliments, remember that a compliment should be a compliment and an insult should be delivered to the front of the person, and not to their back. If someone is feeling particularly proud or excited about something and you decide it’s up to you to restore ‘balance’ with your back-handed compliment you could seriously damage their self-esteem or their enthusiasm. Praise positively, peeps.

A Challenge

Yes, I believe it is time we all put our money where our mouths are, so I am issuing this challenge to you all for the weekend with the understanding that I will of course also be engaging in it as well.

The challenge is simple. It deals with changing our negative mindsets to find the positives in our every day and then actively sharing what we see. Over the course of the weekend, preferably once a day, compliment the following people in your life:

  • A family member or friend: This is the easiest one of course, but it is also a great way to strengthen your relationship with the ones you love.
  • A co-worker: For most of us these are the people we will spend the second most amount of time in our lives with so it certainly wouldn’t hurt to improve relations and morale with your office mates.
  • A business you patronize: In a world of TripAdvisor and Yelp and viral reviews it’s a shame that we are more likely to share complaints and negative experiences over positive ones. Your local business thrives on word of mouth and needs the support of the community to survive. Try to spread a good word about a business you frequent not only on some form of media but with friends, family, or even just let them know you think they’re doing a great job.
  • A young person or beginner in some field: Remember from the early on in the series that the young and the novices are the ones who benefit from positive encouragement the most. So take some time to provide that boost of confidence they need to believe in themselves.
  • A stranger: Perhaps one of the hardest to do and yet the easiest in terms of finding something to compliment. Brighten someone’s day with as simple a remark as ‘I love your tie or shoes or etc’. Try to be specific to show that you are genuine and paying attention.

Thus concludes ManVsLoneliness’s seminar on praise. Hahah. I hope it helped in some way and I hope you take on this challenge.

Day 101

Man: 81 Loneliness: 20

Uh…candle.

Day 100 Supplemental: The Man and the Ill-Meaning Praise P.4; ‘Clumsy’

Elvis Costello.jpgI was out on a date one night back in the heyday of my Tinder, okCupid, and CoffeeMeetsBagel craze when the girl I was with told me I was (and I quote) ‘the heaviest guy she would still find cute’. Now…correct me if you think I’m wrong…but I’m almost positive she was trying to compliment me. I think in her head she was thinking ‘oh yeah, that went perfectly’. I’m pretty sure she was trying to make me hear ‘I think you’re cute’ but what I did hear was ‘you’re not too fat yet chubby!’ Okay the chubby was harsh, even for the imaginary her in my hypothetical mind. But still.

We have all been on at least one side of the ‘back-handed compliment’. Some of us may Kate Winslet.jpghave given these very such passive-aggressive remarks before in the past, others of us may have been the unwilling and unwitting recipients, and a good number of us will have at one point or another been on both sides in different situations. We may not always be aware our good intentions are being marred by adding just a bit too much information or we may be very, very much aware that we are trying not so subtly to jab at the person when we deliver our contempt masked as a compliment.

We’re not all evil and cruel creatures. But we might think like them sometimes. Our negative-focused minds may not know how to give an honest compliment without lacing Billie Piper.gifit with a bit of bitter cynicism simply because we aren’t even aware we are doing it in the first place. Our propensity to focus on the negative aspects of things may be why sometimes we can’t help but add a little backhanded slap to the face when we’re really trying to offer a pat on the shoulder. The problem is back-handed compliments very rarely feel like praise and most always are heard as criticisms and insult. Remember that while your mind is sub-consciously focusing on delivering the negativity, your poor unfortunate recipient is very consciously focused on receiving it.

I believe one of the reasons why we might purposely give a back-handed compliment is a sense of ‘balance’ or a fear of ‘imbalance’. You may feel a certain level of insecurity or competition with this person. Giving a compliment to someone elevates their status, at the very least in your eyes. Praise literally ‘lifts’ a person up. We might not want to, by extension, feel below someone, so we purposely wrap our well-meaning praise with a bit of criticism to drag that person straight back down.

Now to be fair, criticism does have its use and necessity in society as well. We can’t just go around telling each other how incredible we are. That’s how we end up with things like ‘participation trophies’ and believe me, there isn’t a single part of me that agrees with or patrick-stumpappreciates those. Yes we all need to be realistic about ourselves and should be able to take criticism as well as compliments. The problem is back-handed compliments are neither. They aren’t the positive, image reinforcing, inspiring messages that genuine praise should be. Nor are they the constructive, well-meaning, productive messages of criticism that help to direct our efforts towards improvement and betterment. Back-handed compliments are stuck in the middle and they do a rubbish job on either side. If you mean to criticize someone, criticize them openly and honestly for actual effect and appreciation. When praising someone, especially in an area that you are perhaps passionate in or have some expertise in, resist also the temptation to give someone a back-handed compliment because you think it might diminish your status or stature in that field. Helping to raise someone up by recognizing their efforts does nothing to conversely lower your own contributions. It is simply addressing and acknowledging something that already exists and is already true.

I do also believe that there are times when we are aware of our actions and have no desire or intention of being positive or giving praise at all. A back-handed compliment is really just a subtle insult for someone who for whatever reason a) has some desire to bring you down and b) wants to avoid direct confrontation. Passive-aggressive jabs like this are common, and, not to be sexist or anything, hilarious when it’s between women. I mean…how many times have you heard…

‘I love how you can just wear anything and not worry about it.’

‘You look great in this picture. It must have been a really nice camera.’

‘Usually that looks terrible on people with your body type. But you made it work.’

These are without a doubt some funny and not so subtly hidden jabs but they’re still terrible. Whatever happened to the golden rule, people?! Don’t forget. If you have nothing good to say, don’t try to say it in a good way.

Aside from the first one I shared with you, I’ve been the recipient of plenty of these kinds of compliments that I am not too embarrassed or too proud to share.


‘I knew someone your size would know good places to eat.’ Uhm…there MAY be a correlation but I don’t need you HIGHLIGHTING it. How about just thanking me for the great recommendations.

‘You were too smart to be a teacher anyways.’ I don’t even know how to process this. There MAY be some well-meaning comfort behind this since this was right after I chose to leave education. But you insulted a career I had a passion for, and had I decided to soldier on or go back, have implied that I’d be stupid to do so.

‘Your English is incredible.’ Yo. I was BORN here. My parents weren’t and they STILL speak better than some people I’ve met.

‘You’re a great cook, you dress well, you’re incredibly articulate, are you sure you’re not gay?’ Thank you, thank you, thank you, and WHAT. Listen the common everyday man’s inability to feed himself, clothe himself, or express himself isn’t a statement on sexuality. It’s a cry for help. These should be skills all men aspire to. Why couldn’t you have just topped at three things?

‘You look great in that. Now imagine it with less weight.’ I do. Every morning. Don’t worry folks. I forgot to mention that if you are trying to use a back-handed compliment to draw the person’s attention to some aspect of themselves you are genuinely concerned about and want to address without seeming rude, the odds are if they have any self-awareness they are already thinking about it.


Now what I really genuinely and honestly hope to read from you all are some examples of back-handed compliments you’ve received! They don’t serve much purpose but at least their clumsy attempts at praise could be a good laugh.

Day 99: The Man and the Reception of Praise P.3; ‘Promises’

‘A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.’

-Victor Hugo

victor-hugoAlright peeps, I think we’ve spent enough time patting other people on the back. We are all now fully aware of the benefits and positive effects of praise in reinforcing good traits and improving self-perception. We’ve practiced the art of giving genuine praise and how to find opportunities to share. It’s come now to the best part of the program, which is accepting the praise we receive from others with grace, dignity, and equal appreciation.

We have discussed the benefits praise can offer. It can help cement positive traits or behaviors or affirm certain aspects of ourselves we try to highlight. When offered genuinely and sincerely, praise is one of the best gifts we can give someone and one of the best we can receive. Now if someone were to go to the trouble of finding something you really wanted or needed and wrapped it all up in pretty paper and a bow and was so happy and honest in giving it to you as a gift, would you want to give it back or toss it aside or reject it? Thankfully (hopefully) the answer is no and we don’t really see that sort of behavior in real life, but it is definitely very much the same when we do not know how to accept the praise of others.

Why Do We Struggle to Accept Praise?

As I’ve mentioned certain cultures make accepting praise particularly difficult, especially amongst Asian culture. It is simply not in our nature to accept kind words from others, and we are much more comfortable deflecting them or redirecting them towards others. Many people stumble when accepting praise though for varied other reasons.

Mean Girls.gifOne of the most common reasons we hesitate to accept praise is the fear of appearing conceited. The concern is that by accepting the praise of others we are, by extension, praising ourselves, which can seem conceited or smug. By accepting praise it may seem as though we were seeking it to begin with or that perhaps we were expecting it. By appearing hesitant or struggling to accept it we remain humble.

A sure sign of cynicism when it comes to accepting praise may be in that we fear by accepting praise we become ‘indebted’ to the person who gave it and will be expected to return it in the near future. This is closely related to another reason, which is that we may doubt the sincerity or motive of the person who is speaking to us. We do not want to feel as though we may owe the person anything in any way or we may already be suspicious of them and expect a request for a favor to soon follow should we choose to accept their kind words. To be fair this fear may be legitimate at times depending on the situation as there will definitely be times when some people’s kind words really do mask hidden agendas. But to suspect every opportunity and occurrence of such is certainly no better and may reflect an overly negative or cynical worldview.

If we truly feel that we don’t deserve the praise being offered we will definitely offer someSelf Esteem.jpg resistance in acceptance. This could stem from honestly not doing much to deserve praise but if that is the case this is more the concern of the person offering, as we saw from yesterday. It is the responsibility of the one offering praise to be genuine and sincere. On the receiving end however this could be affected by our self-esteem. If we have a low self-esteem we may struggle to accept compliments even when it is honestly and sincerely deserved. If you cannot believe what they say about you because you don’t see it in yourself, your instinct may be to doubt, deflect, or counter it.

What Do We Do When We Struggle to Accept Praise?

Sociological studies have placed our general reactions towards praise into three categories: acceptance, deflection, and rejection. Most people remain within deflection as the two extremes of the spectrum could seem unappealing. A full on acceptance of praise may, as I mentioned, seem conceited or smug. Most of us possess the social graces to not go off the deep end on the other side either, as a full on rejection is rude and makes you seem mistrusting and makes the giver feel awkward and uncomfortable. There are a couple ways in which we do this to try and diffuse the compliment as if it were a ticking time bomb of undeserved confidence.

We can deny the compliment, rejecting what the person says and questioning their judgement or assessment. This is a common one that, though we may feel is harmless, can actually affect the person who complimented you. They may be shy or uncomfortable themselves, and this was a way of them branching out or working on their own abilities with praise. By questioning them you may make them feel even more uncomfortable. This could also portray you as someone who is mistrusting and can further decrease the chances of you receiving any praise in the future from that person or anyone else.

We may ignore the praise altogether. Either we honestly did not hear it or did not know it was a compliment or we are purposely turning a deaf ear to their words because it is easier than dealing with it head on. This could make you seem clueless or offend them as no one wants to feel ignored, especially when they are going out of their way to offer you some kind and encouraging words that you and they know would benefit both of you.

Didn't Do It.gifWhen we receive praise we feel we do not deserve we may be tempted to deflect it away from ourselves and towards someone else. If the person you are referring to was indeed a major contribution to your efforts and deserves the praise this is of course absolutely fine after you have accepted the praise yourself, not in lieu of. Chances are, despite the fact that it may have been a group effort, you were still part of that group and did have a part in its success. By deflecting the praise you are in effect decreasing your own self-worth and devaluing yourself. Take the moment to recognize that you were influential as well and accept the praise.

Sometimes to avoid those feelings of indebtedness towards the praiser we reflect either the same or a different compliment back to them. This is a way of indirectly brushing aside the compliment and instead reflecting the attention back to the one giving the praise. You may think this is okay as it still creates positivity, but keep in mind that often in the rush and hurry to redirect the attention the actual praise given is…well, less than sincere. You may think that by ‘returning the favor’ you are actually being polite, but if you think about it, it could imply very different things. For one, it may display that rather than taking the time to appreciate the praise and express gratitude you were too busy trying to come up with one of your own, and it may be less specific and more shallow and certainly less deserved. For another, if it becomes very apparent that this is a reflex for you, it diminishes the value of your praise as it seems more mechanical and autonomous than organic and spontaneous.

Perhaps the most passive-aggressive and least constructive method would be for us to minimize the praise given to us. This is best exemplified whenever you see someone who looks particularly well put-together that day and you try to compliment them as such and they respond ‘Oh this? Really? I think I look terrible. I just woke up and put on the first thing I could see. Teehee.’ Look this is clearly a lie. Let’s not try to play each other for fools. Just take the damn compliment Jesus. We know what this is trying to imply. It is trying to deflect the praise while at the same time opening the door for even bigger, greater praise. What we are trying to convey here is that if our very least effort is already praise-worthy, imagine what we would get if we actually tried and how wonderful and amazing we must be to be capable of so much with so little effort! Please. This is false modesty and frustrates the one trying to give praise and puts you in a rather nasty light as well.

How Do I Accept Praise?

Thanks.jpg

Say ‘THANK YOU’ for one! It’s honestly really almost that simple. Set aside your pride or ego, don’t worry about how you’ll be seen or perceived, and the very first thing straight out of your mouth when receiving genuine and sincere praise should always be ‘THANK YOU’. Try it with me. ‘Thank you’. Okay. Now let’s move on.

I want you to understand that no bad will come from accepting a compliment. You didn’t come up with the compliment yourself. You didn’t ask for it. I certainly hope you weren’t fishing for them. This was an honest gift from someone who cared enough to share with you so you should not feel any guilt in accepting it. Also remember that being proud of your work does not make you any more arrogant or any less humble. A little pride in a job well done is good because it is internal motivation to continue. We don’t need to go over-inflating our egos with every little compliment but we can certainly benefit from a healthy controlled diet of praise. It is possible to remain humble while receiving praise with dignity, graciousness, and gratitude.

Remember also that the one giving praise (if sincere) isn’t looking for anything in return, so don’t feel the immediate need to find some elaborate way to thank them or to reflect back onto them. They are happy simply to recognize someone for their contributions and the best way to support and encourage that is to be truly grateful and appreciative. A simple ‘thank you’ definitely suffices to portray this but you can of course embellish to an extent.

Letting them know that not only are you grateful for their praise but how much it means to you would definitely be a welcome way of receiving praise. If it honestly made your day or encouraged you to continue on, let them know the positive effect their words had. It could encourage them to give you praise again in the future as you continue to succeed or it may encourage them to spread the positivity elsewhere. Letting them know why their particular words means so much to you is also a wonderful way to thank someone. If you particularly respect their opinion let them know and know why. If you both happen to be in the same field and you admire their work, letting them know that receiving praise from someone they admire just spreads the warm feelings everywhere.

Receiving praise with a sense of dignity and grace is something we should all exercise and be able to do as well and as often as giving praise. You’ve been made well aware of the promises of praise both as the giver and the receiver and now you can actively and enthusiastically engage in this exchange. Next time we’ll discuss praise’s twisted cousin, the backhanded compliment. We’ll discuss why we might sometimes give them, how to avoid them, and my personal favorite, backhanded compliments I’ve received or those around me have. This should be a hoot and a half.

Day 99

Man: 79 Loneliness: 20

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