Does Praise help you or harm you?

Word Choice Matters.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Yesterday I was in a unique predicament. I got a phone call from a friend who spoke of how she was totally burned out, not because of the work or stress she felt as an Architecture student, but because her professor praised her too much.

I know it sounds weird. Why would anyone feel exhausted from receiving praise? Wasn’t it meant to make you feel encouraged or confident?

So, I asked her. She replied the teacher had given her such lavish praises for her previous work that she feared her next project won’t live up to it.

It made her feel stressed and anxious.

This got me thinking — Do people really focus on the words they use when they praise someone?

Of all things, I believe I’m an expert in receiving praise. Well, I’m the youngest in my family and anything I do, I get a pat on the back or a shower of compliments.

I’m eternally grateful for the love and affection bestowed upon me.

And it’s not only the family but also friends, colleagues, teachers and strangers that give compliments all the time.

And that’s why I hate it so much. Not their affection but their word choice.

I have experienced the Lofty, exaggerated, grandiose praise. Examples include “You’re perfect!”, “You are so pretty.” “You have such a nice voice.”

Yeah, it’s just flattery.

I have also experienced Outcome-based praises like “That piece of art is brilliant.” “You are a fast runner.” “You are so smart that you get As all the time.”

And the Effort-based praises like “You kept at it and succeeded. I’m proud of you!” or ”You worked really hard and look how wonderful it looks.”

And finally the Comparison-based praises like “You are definitely smarter than her.” or ”You are better than them.”

Of all the types of praises which ones do you think are helping you and which ones are harming you?

Research has shown that praising someone’s effort helps them in continuing to challenge themselves and push the envelope.

While all the other kinds of praise (mentioned in this article) are harmful.

When children or adults are praised for their innate abilities like talent, they stop improving because they think it’s outside their control.

When they receive grandiose praises, they stop trying because they fear the next project or venture won’t live up to the expectations.

When they receive praise for outcomes they achieved, they start focusing on the outcomes and not the process. The process (which is essential) feels boring.

When they are compared to others, they can feel distanced from their work. Did they do it for themselves or just to beat the competition?

So, it’s important that we select our words carefully before we praise

To avoid a grandiose way of praising, figure out the criteria by which you will evaluate someone’s work. Be honest in your evaluation because anyone can figure out insincerity.

To avoid outcome-based praising, focus on their process and their efforts.

To avoid comparison-based praising, focus on them alone. There’s no need to compare.

And finally, be mindful about receiving praise

When you are on the receiving end of praise, you may not be able to control what you’re told but you can control how you respond.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which type of praise am I receiving?
  2. Is it sincere? Why is it sincere?

Simply, forget about it if it was not honest or effort-focused.

Written by Shreya Sinha. Thanks for reading!
P.S. The characters and events in the story are fictional. Written to help you re-think praise.

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Shreya Sinha

Shreya Sinha

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Programmer on weekdays, Creative writer on weekends. New content every Friday. Connect with me: https://linktr.ee/ShreyaSinha