Article by Spyros Paolinelis, Managing Partner Amnis Learning & Growth, about praise and gratidute.
Typically, when praising somebody, it is because we believe that we have the power to make them feel good and thus repeat the praised behavior. In essence we assume and use our perceived power on somebody to motivate them. When we express gratitude, we disclose that somebody’s behavior had an impact on our feelings, in this case a positive one. In essence we assign the power to the other person, hoping – but not expecting – that they will become empowered to do more good in the future. It takes courage to express gratitude to somebody because by doing so, we accept that we are vulnerable to their behaviors. By accepting to be vulnerable with them, we demonstrate that we trust them, and we contribute to the development of a trustful relationship.
What is the impact of praising on the motivational outlook of the individual? To start with, if the individual needs praise to do good, it indicates two things: First, that they are not autonomous: to perform they need the boost of the praise, which might result in developing an unhealthy dependence on it. Second, it indicates that they are extrinsically motivated for the task, they do not see how it is meaningful for them and consequently they are not energized by performing it. In this case a discussion aiming at helping the individual discover a link between the task or goal and their own sense of values, purpose, or goals, might be due; especially if the task or goal is critical for the individual or the organization.
Praising can also be perceived by the other person as an imposition. One lady-trainee told me this story: Coming back from a parents’ evening she praised her 9-year-old daughter for her performance and told her “how happy mammy is” only to get the response “mammy I didn’t do it for you, I did it for me”. Which demonstrates the difference it makes expressing our feelings instead of asking the other person to express and reflect on theirs.
What is wrong with praising and thus assuming a position of power? It is known that power and empathy have an inverse relationship. Giving priority to our interests (how their behavior contributed to our goals, our good) or to our feelings (how their behavior made us feel) instead of connecting to their interests and feelings just kills empathy. One more thing: if the person does what he does in expectation of a praise, the relationship may turn into a transactional one. There is no such risk when expressing gratitude.
So, praise or express gratitude? There is a place for both, we just need make sure we know when and why to use each and what might be the implications.