Specific praise is good praise

Thumbs upAbout a month ago, I blogged about an article examining praise in a major Danish newspaper in which I’m quoted as being all in favor of praise. Katrine Dahl who is currently writing her phd thesis on collaborative writing processes sent me an email saying:

And I am quoted in that same article for saying something to the effect that general and superficial praise can be pointless or at its worst negative.

Praise should be specific and concrete (as should criticism!). Don’t say: I love your website. Do say: I love the way you create a friendly community on your website by actually reading and commenting so sincerely on the comments made by your readers. You pay attention to detail. You listen to their stories and connect them with your ideas. You try to give useful advice. You are not afraid of being open about your flaws. I specifically noticed the way you replied to N’s comment, that was…

Giving specific praise is extremely difficult. Paying attention, analyzing, reflecting is necessary. We need to get engaged, to get into stuff, to care.

Unlike sending off non-commital superlatives in all directions, which is pretty easy, but not particularly useful in any other terms than making the receiver feeling momentarily good about herself (which is a very good thing, I am totally with you on that).

The point is, that in order to learn from praise, so that we can do more of what it was that we did well, we need to know specifically what it was.

This dimension of praise is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be. The psychological dimension and the learning dimension of praise can so easily go hand in hand. In fact, I am convinced that the psychological benefits of praise are greater if that praise is given in a specific way.

I could not agree more – praise needs to be specific to be valuable. Thank you Katrine for adding to the topic in such a positive, interesting and useful way :o)

12 thoughts on “Specific praise is good praise”

  1. Wow, what a good point. I am forwarding this article to a couple of my coworkers. Unfortunately, our boss has a way of constantly berating the amount of time we spend at work, then feels guilty about it, and gives very general, sweeping compliments. I feel that this article is pretty clear about more effective, and considerate praise.

    Thank you (I have your site on my igoogle and love reading it).

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  3. Certainly! A psychological experiment of school children on praise showed that general abstract praise caused the children to quit quicker and become more easily frustrated than children receiving specific praise when faced with math pieces they could not solve! Quite interesting.

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