7 Ways Praise Can Cultivate Resilience in the Workplace

Noelle Ihli

The “everybody gets a trophy” approach popularized by well-meaning educators and psychologists in the late 20th century has become a parody of itself. But, as it turns out, lavishing indiscriminate praise and rewards isn’t a recipe for success. Instead, overpraising can lead to complacency, stagnation, and fragility in the face of criticism or challenges.  

This backlash against “overpraising” has had a significant impact on business. For example, one study found that 37% of managers don’t give any kind of positive reinforcement. But according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, that’s a mistake. Instead, Dweck believes that praise can cultivate resilience and a growth mindset in the workplace. 

The key is offering effective praise.

Effective Praise vs. Ineffective Praise

Dweck cautions managers and leaders against praising intellect and talent. For one thing, these qualities don’t translate to success. More importantly, this type of praise backfires as soon as employees hit a challenge or struggle. 

In Dweck’s research, such employees are more likely to blame their failures on limited ability rather than lack of effort. Why? Because they believe that their success—and their failure—rides on personal traits and natural abilities. 

What should managers praise? According to Dweck, “The effort, the strategies, the doggedness and persistence, the grit people show, the resilience that they show in the face of obstacles.”

Seven Strategies for Effective Praise

Dweck cautions that how leaders offer praise can make a big difference in its effectiveness. She provides seven effective praise strategies:

  1. Be Specific

Specific praise communicates sincerity and identifies behavior you’d like to see more often. Instead of “thanks for your work on the proposal,” try drilling down to exactly what you appreciate. For example, “I know you stayed late last night to finish up. Thank you for going the extra mile to see things through.” 

  1. Be Sincere and Realistic

Inflated praise might feel good, but it sets an impossible standard for future recognition and can sow suspicion about your motives. Instead of “That presentation was stellar,” try, “Thank you for running such a smooth, productive presentation. I appreciated the attention to detail.”

  1. Go Beyond the Obvious

There’s no missing someone who rallied for an all-nighter, crushed the high-stakes sales meeting, or prepared a successful pitch session, and you should recognize their hard work. But it’s crucial to look beyond high-visibility wins for subtler behaviors demonstrating grit and perseverance. 

Not everyone grinds in public, and if you don’t pay attention, you might miss opportunities to reinforce smaller, less obvious instances of behavior and effort. You want your employees to feel noticed for the importance of everyday actions. 

  1. Don’t Wait

It can be tempting to wait until a team member completes a project or hits a deadline before offering praise. But Dweck encourages leaders to offer praise during every stage of a project or task. Such recognition can inspire renewed efforts and encourage that particular behavior to continue for the duration. 

  1. Praise Behind Someone’s Back

Dweck has found that praise can be doubly effective if it happens behind an employee’s back. Such “anti-gossip” fosters an environment of positivity, engenders trust that praise isn’t just “lip service,” and creates a culture of acknowledging contributions. 

As educator Carol Miller says, “If you hear someone else complimented, it has a halo effect of other workers knowing that this can and will occur when they leave the room.” 

  1. Don’t Use Praise to “Butter Up”

Praise can quickly lose its power—and start to feel like manipulation—if it comes hand in hand with a request. If employees believe you’re offering praise to “butter them up,” your words lose their impact. Always offer praise without strings attached.

  1. Learn to Recognize Bids for Reassurance

Dweck encourages leaders to listen when employees seek “honest feedback.” While such feedback is necessary for growth and development, this phrase is often a bid for reassurance. Therefore, take the opportunity to deliver candor hand in hand with any praise for effort and positive behaviors that might merit mention. 

Effective praise in the workplace leads to greater resilience and a growth mindset. Can you think of a time when you were effectively praised by a leader in your workplace? What about an example of ineffective praise? Share your story with us on Twitter using #Mindset. 

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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