Monday, March 14, 2011

Practical tips for complimenting effectively

The research by Carol Dweck shows that complimenting about trait can have harmful consequences. These don't occur with process compliments. Alfie Kohn (1993) provides four practical suggestions that fit well with Dweck's findings and that limit possible damaging effects of praise:
  1. Don't praise people, only, what they do
  2. Make praise as specific as possible
  3. Avoid phony praise
  4. Avoid praise that sets up competition
From the solution-focused approach some additional suggestions can be deduced:
  1. Compliment only on things which are important to the other person. When using the solution-focused approach you don't just compliment about everything. Compliments have a specific function. They are pointers to solutions (Jackson and McKergow, 2002). Any compliments you make are focused on behaviors which seem to be related to progress in the direction of the desired situation.
  2. Use the ABC of compliments (source: A- Accurate: The compliment has to accurately refer to what has happened and what the person has done. B – Believable: The compliment should not be an exaggeration but realistic. C – Constructive: The compliment should refer to what the person wants to achieve and be useful for making progress.
  3. Compliment with questions. Instead of complimenting directly (for example: "Well done!") you can also compliment indirectly. This means that you invite the other through a question to describe what was good about what he or she has done and what has worked well. An example of an indirect compliment is: "Wow, how did you manage to finish that task so quickly?"). I like to call such kinds of questions affirmative questions. It is also possible to include the perspective of other people in compliments. An example may be: "What do your colleagues appreciate in how you work?" An advantage of complimenting through questions is that you activate the other person. Also, there is less chance that he or she will feel embarrassed or will turn down the compliment ("It was nothing special"). Instead you challenge the other person and make him or her reflect ("Actually, how did I do that.... let's see.....?"
Summary and invitation:

A brief summary of the suggestions provided here is: if you want to compliment be sincere and specific and focus your compliment on something you know is important to the other person. Focus your compliment of behavior instead of on presumed fixed traits (like intelligence) of the person. Use affirmative questions so that the other person gets activated and will reflect on his or her own behavior.

My invitation is to try these suggestions. You are welcome to share your experiences.

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