“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two layers of praise.” (May Kay Ash)
Many of you who read these articles might, like me, be parents. And probably all of you have been around toddlers at some point in your life. Think about how we teach very young children how to do something as basic as walking.
At first we hold them under their arms and get them in the position. We giggle with them as their chubby feet dance around. Soon they are tentatively putting their weight on their own legs, and they might even bounce up and down a bit as the giggles and smiles continue from both us and them.
As they progress we progress. Where once we held our hands under their arms, we now hold them by their two hands as they learn to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually that becomes a one-handed assist from us. Then that magic day comes when they take that first, tentative step. Most of the time that first step ends with a plop onto their padded behinds. But, do we scold them? Do we tell them that they should have done better? Of course not!
At every step of the way we praise them lavishly. We cheer for them, we applaud for them. Our faces light up with even the slightest improvement.
As these children progress through their development, our praise starts to wane a bit. When they reach their school years, and they progress through their studies, we come to expect that they will always improve, that they are always working to learn.
By the time they get to their first job, they have forgotten the thrill of being praised for small improvements. How sad.
Am I suggesting that we should stand and cheer every time one of our team members improves slightly? Probably not, that would seem very fake and tiresome. But, what would happen if you doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the amount of times that you praised someone at work for making an improvement. If you presently never give that kind of praise, then you’d still be at zero, so you have to start somewhere. But the truth is that if we increased the amount of praise we gave for improvements we would get….are you ready for it?…. MORE IMPROVEMENTS!
There is an old saying in economics that you always get more of what you subsidize. The more people realize there is something to be gained from a certain behavior, the more of that behavior you will get. If you praise improvements, you get more improvements. But the converse is true also. If the only time your people get your attention is when they make mistakes, then you will get more mistakes.
In this series I have talked often about the need to be sincere in all our actions. In this principle, where we are praising improvements, it is as important as ever. Dale Carnegie realized this as well, and saved this chapter to remind us:
“Remember, we all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.
Let me repeat: The principles taught in this book will only work when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.”
These are powerful words, saved for late in the book. Dale Carnegie knew that this principle can be a fulcrum, a turning point in your relationship with those you lead. He knew that if done right, the sky is the limit, but if handled poorly, could cause your demise.
We have been working, in this section of principles, to improve the performance of one of our people, without arousing resentment. As we see them making the effort to improve, we must remember with great sincerity to…
Principle 27 – Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”