Stop praising!

When you praise, you put yourself above others. You create vertical relationships instead of horizontal ones. Praise reinforces hierarchy. And it’s addictive. Instead, limit yourself to a sincere “thank you. “

Yes, you read correctly: Stop praising! You probably assumed the opposite until now, didn’t you? You can regularly read in various sources that there is too little praise in companies. Often leaders are asked not to be so sparse with praise. Thus, leaders up and down the country are (and presumably will continue to be) trimmed to praise employees because they then feel confirmed, experience appreciation and are more committed. Unfortunately, this is a serious mistake.

These effects only occur if you treat employees fairly and equally. But when you praise, you put yourself above others, qualify and consolidate a vertical relationship - in other words, you are not communicating at eye level. And if you seek praise, you make yourself dependent. Praise only seems positive, its effect on relationships is not.

Creating horizontal relationships.

Actually, the psychologist Alfred Adler (from 1870 to 1937) pointed out that praise (or even blame) creates a non-equal, so-called vertical relationship. Adler contrasts it with the horizontal relationship, in which parties treat each other as equals and take care to separate tasks neatly. Let me explain the latter with an example:

Let’s say you lead a team and there is a minimalist on it. He never volunteers, waits for others to take on additional tasks and does his thing more or less autonomously. Professionally, there is nothing to complain about, his contributions meet the required criteria. But his behavior pisses off the other team members and they increasingly complain to you. How do you proceed?

Option 1: Your feedback is qualifying, such as “You don’t support this team. Take on additional tasks in the future!” Not only does this create a vertical relationship, but you are unnecessarily interfering. After all, it is solely that employee’s decision whether and how to respond to this feedback. It probably won’t make teamwork very palatable to him, and you won’t notice any change sooner or later.

Pressure always generates counterpressure!

However, there are other ways to support a team than with additional tasks. And you exclude these possibilities if you interfere. It is their job to set favorable conditions for team performance. It’s the employees’ job to decide whether and how to take advantage of those frameworks. If you don’t, it’s your job to react and, through your decisions, create new conditions - in extremis, a separation. However, you should under no circumstances be tempted to take over the tasks of the employee, i.e. in the outlined example, to indicate which additional tasks this employee should take over. By doing so, you are interfering, placing yourself above him and not treating him as an equal.

You can lead a horse to the well, but it has to drink itself.

Option 2: “I expect you to proactively support this team, especially during bottlenecks, so that everyone can achieve their goals. What options do you suggest?” (The inclined readers among you will recognize behind this the abbreviated SFA method as I occasionally present in my workshops.) This wording creates opportunities for you to observe and acknowledge changes in the employee’s behavior - just not in a qualifying way at all, but in an appreciative way: “Your contribution helped us deliver on time. Thank you.” This feedback makes teamwork much more palatable than the first option and creates a horizontal relationship without interference.

(Note: Of course, as the team leader in the example above, you should occasionally ask yourself why employees are complaining to you and not to the minimalist. Certain framework conditions (trust, psychological security, honesty, feedback behavior, …) could probably be better designed).

Avoid dependencies.

Praise unconsciously makes us dependent - dependent on the praiser. We often mistakenly equate praise with recognition or belonging and derive our self-worth from it. This is dangerous. We should be able to value ourselves even without praise from others. Otherwise, unhappy (vertical) relationships develop in which we become subordinate. Unfortunately, most of us grew up with praise being the (only) dimension to be maximized: praise from parents, from teachers, from coaches, from trainers, from colleagues. At some point I had to realize that not every praise I received had a positive intention, but was used in an extremely manipulative way by certain people. At the latest then it became clear to me that there was probably something wrong with the concept of praise - but how can I detach myself from it? To be sure, I have probably not yet succeeded conclusively. Nevertheless, I try every day to consciously avoid praise myself (no matter what the expectations of the person opposite me are) and instead to communicate in a horizontal, appreciative way. If you would also like to follow this path, then I have a simple tip below that has led me and many others out of their unspeakable praise dependencies.

Show gratitude.

Adler would recommend that you move from the level of behavior to the level of being. By this he means that you should be grateful to employees, just for the fact that they exist, that they are valuable and of use. Because all people are of value. By addressing this usefulness, we provide the basis for the right self-esteem (that is, the one that can develop independently of praise). This sense of value is so important because it encourages people to go their own way. With courage, we dare to take new steps that move us and others forward without expecting praise - simply because it is right to do them.

Don’t take this tip lightly. This change of perspective is not trivial, because we are used to linking praise with performance (i.e. behavior). And I your business environment will probably be about performance all the time, too. Thanking someone just because she or he exists? Really? Performance pushes people as human beings to the periphery and reduces them to their measurable and economically valued contribution. So it’s no wonder that people who see their contribution dwindle (due to age, for example) feel worthless. I find that shameful.

Consciously broaden that perspective and show gratitude to employees. Sit down and ask yourself who you are grateful to for what (what implicit or explicit benefit). And then share your thanks - either in a face-to-face conversation or with a personal, handwritten card. Old-fashioned? Wait until you receive such a card!

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