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.

15 thoughts on “Fear of Praise

  1. I agree that withholding praise to avoid giving it is ridiculous; however, if the other person’s experience in the class wasn’t as good as yours, giving a 4 instead of a 5 is acceptable ONLY if she includes her specific reasons such as: “I was expecting a written handout and all I got was verbal instructions and had to scramble to take notes while trying to accomplish the projects.” However, if all she does is list a bunch of numbers, she’s being critical without being helpful, which does no one any good at all. I’ve been around soul-suckers who have nothing good to say about anything (and more criticism is someone else is having fun) and all I can say is that they all get 0 out of 5 in my ratings!

  2. I love this post so much, and think everyone should read it. I always feel sorry for negative people for how their life must be, and grateful that it is not my life. I know I would much rather walk away from someone leaving them smiling, rather than sad. I was told once that I opened myself up for disappointment by trusting in people and been so positive when faced with the possibility people could let me down. They then told me they expected to always be let down and then they were never disappointed. I just hugged them and said I wished for more for them. It made me feel so sad and grateful that I am rarely let down so I am free to dwell in a happier place more often.

    • What a sad story–sure, never opening yourself up to hurt is safe, but it’s also bland. And unless you have felt sadness, you cannot feel joy–the power is in the contrast. You must have a rich and fulfilling life!

  3. I completely agree! Even the smallest praise can be so much appreciated and sometimes it can make a person’s day. My Mom is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, and while the care is not perfect, I know that most of them are doing their best. I often tell the caretakers that I appreciate all they do because it seems they get very little praise for a very difficult job.

  4. It might be one thing not to give a perfect evaluation if something could be changed that would help a person learn or understand better but to hold back praise just because someone expects perfection…dream on! Offering praise to others (and ourselves) is so important. I was at the Tempe Art Fest yesterday and saw a few artists whose work was interesting and impressive, even if it might not be something I would hang on my wall. They were so appreciative of my positive feedback (I received tons of hugs from strangers, i.e. artists, yesterday!) and the exchange of ideas and information made it a fabulous day. When I like someone’s idea, art or class, I want to share it with him or her. Why wouldn’t I?

    Being stingy in sharing praise, compliments or ideas just makes you a stingy and unhappy person in all aspects of life. (Don’t get me started on the story about another artist that I almost dropped a few bills with but, because of her negative attitude, will never receive a penny from me!)

    • If you came by my booth, I”d hug you, too! You are a sunny and generous spirit. What you said is so true–Being stingy makes you unhappy in all aspects of life. And I’m glad you bright this place up!

  5. I’m reading this during my lunch break and as I read it I just had to look up to my ‘Wall of praise’. It’s not really a wall, it’s the huge filing cabinet in my office, but on it I have stuck every little note, card and thank you mail I have gotten from grateful clients from all over the world. Some even have sent a picture of themselves or little thank you gifts. I’m amazed every time this happens! I think it’s important to surround yourself with this kind of appreciation, because most days are just the daily grind and you almost forget who you’re doing it for (I work as an archivist). Still, I do get thank you’s from my boss sometimes and I had to laugh when one day I fixed something for him that had been lying around for years and he said “I’m so happy right now I could kiss you!” (he didn’t by the way, let there be no mistake about that!). This made me smile, because one) he’s not the type to kiss his employees and two) it felt really good to be appreciated so openly. 😉 Thanks for reminding us that appreciation is one of the things that keeps us going.

    • The work of an archivist is tedious and under-appreciated. I could kiss you, too! I’m glad you keep the notes. I keep mine, too, and they cheer me up on nights when I wonder why I do what I do.

  6. Well said and so true! This issue could be a subject for at least three books. Many many times I’ve been surprised of how little the “bosses” know about this. Some friendly words and a little praise often gives a double effort in return.
    We should, me included, pay much more attention to these things. Thanks a lot for your reminder.

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