Fear of Praise

After the class was finished, the instructor handed out evaluations for us to fill out. I’d enjoyed the class and learned something useful, so I circled all the 5s on the form–the highest number. The person next to me said, “You gave her all 5s?”

“Sure, ” I said, “The instructor was interesting and I learned something.”

Praise warms you. © Quinn McDonald

The woman next to be frowned and said, “That 5 means the class is perfect, and it wasn’t perfect. I could name a few things that weren’t perfect.”

I stopped her. “I’m sure you could,” I said, “But 5 is the highest score, and it doesn’t mean perfect, it just means the instructor did what she said she was going to do, and that’s fine. And I had a good time. For me, that’s a plus.”

“I have higher expectations,” the woman said, “and I didn’t have a perfect experience, so the instructor doesn’t get a perfect mark.”

I wondered exactly what the instructor would have had to do to earn a row of 5s from the woman. And I wondered how come we are so afraid of giving praise. Giving a word of praise isn’t a promise to take care of the other person for life. It’s a vote of confidence–I liked the class. It’s an encouragement–when we offer praise, we offer encouragement to keep doing more of the praised behavior, and that leads to more experience in good behavior.

Even when I offer praise, it gets shrugged off–“Thank you,” I’ll say, in genuine appreciation.

“No problem,” the person answers, as if the effort weren’t enough. I’m sure she would not want me to cause a problem, but the thanks gets lost in the denying.

In the workplace, supervisors don’t say thank you to avoid being asked for a raise or promotion–but how many people would work harder hearing some encouragement? And then deserve that raise or promotion?

My book got its first one-star review on Amazon. I read the review and knew instantly that the person hadn’t read the book. Missed the point entirely. I know the book isn’t for everyone, and won’t make everyone happy. But the criticism was of the “I don’t like it, so you shouldn’t either,” type.  I looked up that reviewers other reviews. Just as I thought, the vast majority were harsh criticisms, judgement rendered from a place of fear. I felt sorry for such a life, and grateful that I don’t have to life that life.  I’ll bet a copy of my book  that she hasn’t had a lot of praise in her life, and felt anger and disappointment at reading the enthusiastic reviews.

Praise doesn’t have to be elaborate. A smile might be enough. Or a simple, “I appreciate your help,” or “Thanks for your effort, it made a difference.” Praising people attracts appreciation to you, too. And that feels good.

It’s Monday, go out and praise someone this week. See if it doesn’t make you feel good.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. She loves the surprised look on people’s faces when they hear praise.