Handing out criticism is one of the most
delicate procedures manager has to do. The same can be said of praise. lot of people are clumsy at handing it out. But even more people are remarkably inept at accepting it.
Some people are simply threatened by praise. Perhaps they feel they don’t deserve it, that they haven’t earned it. Perhaps they think it’s insincere. Or they don’t like the judgement dynamic that comes with praise, dynamic where they’re forced into position of being evaluated by someone else, someone who now has power to make them feel good or bad about themselves.
It’s why so many of us deflect the praise that comes our way. We don’t think it’s addressed to us; we feel it’s aimed at us.
And nobody likes being someone else’s target. People are also uncomfortable with the status implications of praise. person in position to say, “You’re doing great job!” (or conversely, “You messed up!”) is person who has, rightfully or not, assumed position of power over you.

You can’t praise your boss
It’s unwise to critique your boss along the lines “you misread the customer in that meeting” or “you forgot to mention our overseas capabilities”. Likewise, it’s awkward for you to praise your boss; “You were terrific in there!” That would be presuming you had the authority to pass judgement, positive or otherwise.
You have to be invited to offer such commentary. And very few bosses would make the invitation, precisely because of the status instability it creates. The right to praise enrobes them with status and power. And they like to keep that power to themselves.
One of the easiest ways to seduce people – whether it’s client, customer, colleague, or future spouse – is to gently but steadily shower them with praise. Compliment them about how they look one day, how they handled crisis the next, their taste in music the next, and so on – and pretty soon they’ll be addicted to your compliments. They’ll expect them, and they’ll miss them when you withhold them. Admiring someone is strange but sure-fire technique to win someone’s admiration. People will be in your thrall because they think you are enthralled by them.

When seducing begins to pale
Inevitably this seduction pales. No one is perfect, therefore no one remains the permanent object of praise. Chinks in the armour reveal themselves. Praise becomes laced with criticism. If this stings, you know you’ve been seduced by praise.
A schoolteacher did this to me in my early teens. She always complimented me to the point where, unconsciously I began to regard her adulation as constant in my life.
It was great for my youthful self-esteem – until the day I messed up an assignment and saw her displeasure. I realised how dependent I’d become on her praise. It didn’t change my life, but it taught me lesson about praise. It’s double-edged sword, and one edge can cut deep.
The worst feature of praise is that it’s usually linked with criticism. You hear this when bosses preface any criticism by telling you: “Everyone is impressed with the job you’re doing, but your people skills could use little work.” They assume that sprinkling sugary praise on their critical comments will somehow sweeten the sound of an essentially negative evaluation.
You can’t fool everyone all the time
Unfortunately, few people are fooled. They’ve heard this praise-followed-by-reproof sequence since childhood – from their parents, teachers and coaches. They know they’re being buttered up for the kill. Is it any wonder that people doubt the sincerity of the good comments?
With all these traps built into the concept of praise, I’m not surprised that many people feel they are being manipulated rather than elevated by their boss’ praise.
Praise exists largely to express appreciation. But appreciation isn’t only expressed to the person being appreciated. It’s also shared with others. If you want to gauge your boss’ sincerity and feel better about your relationship, find out what he or she is saying about you to third parties. The most sincere words are the ones expressed when you’re not in the room.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group.

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