Today, on the Day of Compliments, we may hear a few more, “Great Job!”

It’s like candy to the soul.

Question: Should we be feeding compliments and candy to our employees?! 

Answer: YES and NO!!

Yes, Encourage Team Members!

People succeed better when they feel better.

This principle motivates many corporate happiness initiatives.  Research asserts that a positive mindset

  • increases creativity (easier to find solutions to challenges),
  • communication (better listening), and
  • productivity (more energy).

Employees, like every human being, thrive when their needs for belonging and contribution to a meaningful purpose are met.

Research demonstrates that there is a positive and a destructive way of encouraging people.

Encourage by Noticing Progress

The research of Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School indicates that progress ranks among the highest motivating factors for employees, whether it be advancement on small tasks or passing thresholds on major projects.

It’s easy to mark the moment when we sign on a new client.  What kept the team motivated throughout the months preceding the closing of the deal?  Noticing progress throughout the modest stages of the sales cycle feeds motivation too.

The “small” progress steps often go unnoticed.  There is work ahead!  Baby steps can seem insignificant.

And yet, Amabile asserts the positive impact on motivation that comes from recognizing progress.

Why not redefine complex projects into a series of quick wins?

Don’t Compliment.  Use Encouragement.

Encourage by Focusing on Growth

Carol Dweck of Stanford University unearthed the notions of fixed and growth mindset.  The way we interact with our team members can orient them towards the fixed or the growth mindset.

What are these mindsets?

Tall fixed mindset
Strong growth mindset
  1. The fixed mindset asserts that people have innate capabilities. Either you are good in math or you are not.  Either you are creative or too bad.
    Liken it to growing to a certain height.  Once we have reached our adult height, we don’t get taller.
  2. The growth mindset asserts that people can learn. All the time. No matter how much we already know.
    Think of building muscle.  We can always get stronger.  Strength builds through regular exercise of multiple muscles in various ways.

What’s your mindset?

Try this quiz.  For the six statements below, what mindset do they encourage?  (Scroll to the end for results)

  • I’m so proud of you!
  • You really put a lot of effort into that!
  • I trust your judgement.
  • You did it the right way!
  • You are so talented!
  • You must be proud of yourself!

All of the above may sound positive.  What’s the difference?

The fixed mindset comments provide extrinsic motivation (dependence upon an outside push).

On the other hand, the growth mindset ones generate intrinsic motivation (self-impulse).

Compliments vs. Encouragement

Jane Nelsen, doctor in education and founder of Positive Discipline, differentiates these as compliments (extrinsic motivation) vs. encouragement (intrinsic motivation). Nelsen likens compliments to candy.

  • Delightful as a treat. Unhealthy as a meal.
  • Addictive like sugar. Gives a quick rush…followed by need for more.

These semantics resonate with me in that compliments are given to people for having reached a result.  Encouragement applies for people in work-in-progress…folk like ME!!!!

Our choice of words matters.  Carol Dweck shares tips to encourage (vs. compliment) students.  They apply to learners of all ages throughout life.  Enjoy 😊

Encouragement that Works

One of my most memorable encouraging situations was during a training for ex-prisoners to gain emotional intelligent skills to take responsibility for their life.

At the close of our seven-week training (we met weekly for ½ day), my colleague and I wrote encouragement notes to each of the participants.

We carved out time to generate progress-centered, growth-focused encouragements.  What does one say to someone who sits through each session with arms folded and barely speaks?  How to respond to someone who repeats, “Everything is fine.  Nothing to change.” when he is wearing an electronic bracelet and involved in a recovery program?

To be honest, the easiest response is critique: “Get real.” “Do something.”

These men (and you and I to a lesser extent) have been judged all their lives.  Further criticism merely reinforces the status quo.  We wanted to help them take one (or more) step forward.

Below are some of the encouragements we gave them.  These life-roughened men were so to touched; they insisted on reading them all out loud.  One man responded for the entire group, ”No one has ever spoken to us in this way!”

We noticed your ambition to start your own business and we encourage you in that goal. You can choose what kind of boss to be … and if you want it, you have the capabilities to be both firm and humane simultaneously.

We noticed your courage and your desire to change your life and we encourage you to take a first step towards professional training in preparation for your return to your family.

We noticed and appreciated your growing contribution to the group and hope you become aware of what you bring to others through your personality and ideas.

We appreciate your sense of responsibility that you demonstrated through your attentiveness to our groups’ comfort, your regular attendance, and the job you held in prison. We are confident you can put this skill to use as you embark on your job search.

We noticed your ability to assimilate the concepts and tools of Positive Discipline and constructive communication. We have every confidence that you will be able to implement them and be a good example for the people around you.

You have demonstrated a strong sense of belonging through your family life, your trade and your company. This gives us great confidence in you since a sense of belonging is a fundamental sign of a healthy life.

How do you speak to your employees?  Especially those whose motivation you want to boost.

Click here to discover workshops to communicate constructively in your team.

Experts’ Research on Encouragement

Quiz Results

Compliments

Extrinsic motivation that points towards fixed mindset

  • I’m so proud of you! (Have to please the other person)
  • You did it the right way! (Only one correct way.  Where is room for experimentation?)
  • You are so talented! (An inate quality)

Encouragements

Intrinsic motivaton that stimulates the growth mindset

  • You really put a lot of effort into that! (Focus on effort)
  • I trust your judgement. (Allows room for error and exploration)
  • You must be proud of yourself! (Focus on self-motivation)

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