Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Power of Praise

You ever have a week when everything seems related, like part of the same story? Every event, anecdote, blog, and tweet have been like chapters in the same book lately. Think someone is trying to tell me something?

A few days ago a neighbor was sharing an experience she'd had with her credit card company. Upset about their rate changes, she'd called them to request a change--and apparently to vent. She complained to the customer service rep about the government aid money their bank had received, and criticized their policy changes. She really let them have it. Not only didn't they give her what she asked for, but during the conversation they lowered her card's credit limit. Twice. She ended up with less than half of her original credit.

Yesterday at Facebook I noticed friends' status updates and comments included statements like, "Why do people have to be so mean?" or, "If someone is miserable, why do they have to make other people miserable, too?" One friend is contemplating a job change to get away from a coworker who makes her work life unbearable. The coworker is constantly picking at people's performance and complaining about everything. She has no kind words for anyone; being around her "sucks the life out of everyone," my friend says.

Then this morning I read Chris Brogan's "In Praise of Praise". Brogan describes his trip to New Zealand, how he was bumped to first class because he "said something friendly to a flight attendant." He talks about how much he has enjoyed praising them for this great flight, how much he enjoys praising in general. "I love the opportunity to praise things. I love being a fan of things...I love experiencing things, and then I love talking about them. I love raving." Would you rather work at my friend's office, or with Chris Brogan?

When my kids were little I remember being frustrated when they'd misbehave. It seemed like the more I criticized their behavior, or ranted at them, the worse they'd act. I had much better luck when I followed the advice of parenting experts, who recommended ignoring bad behavior to focus instead on the things kids did right. Watch for the good things, no matter how small, and praise them. Praise is positive reinforcement, and reinforcing good behavior encourages it. As Chris Brogan says, "Praise is powerful." Why do we stop praising once people outgrow tantrums in the grocery store? Why do we wait on hold for hours to complain about things--and rehash our venting in great detail--but rarely call to say thanks when people do a good job?

Offering praise, even about little things, makes a big difference. It isn't just important to the person who receives it; it shifts the outlook and focus of the person giving the praise, too. Looking for things to praise means finding the positive, watching people not to see screw-ups but opportunities to compliment. It makes you think about being grateful for something someone else is...or does...or gives. Chris Brogan says he's "built to praise." I'm not sure that I am, but I think the message this week is that it's a good thing to practice. What do you think?

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