This week is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it has me thinking about the power of praise. Over the past decade or so, scientists have looked into the effects of positive-to-negative interaction ratios, or compliments-to-criticisms, in our work and personal lives. It turns out you need to hear a lot more positive words to overcome a single negative one—about five positives to one negative. That’s the finding of psychologist John Gottman who studied 700 newlyweds and very accurately (we’re talking 94 percent of the time) predicted which pairs would stay together and which ones would divorce after scoring positives and negatives in a 15-minute conversation. Those couples that fell below the 5:1 ratio split up. Those that met or exceeded it were still together ten years later.
A little bit of praise can go a long way in the workplace, too. Some benefits include a more positive mood, greater engagement, improved performance, and enhanced job satisfaction. What’s more, showing gratitude is a great way to improve your own mood, too.
Here are 3 ways to implement more praise into the workplace:
Say it in public. Look for opportunities to give public recognition to direct reports that’s unique. For example, give a specific compliment in front of others during a meeting. For other ways to give effective feedback, check out my blog post on creating a culture of feedback.
Leave a takeaway. A handwritten note or one of those deck of cards with positive quotes is a wonderful and creative way to share your appreciation for the good work your team has done.
If you think it, say it. If you have a positive thought about someone, whether it’s about the job they’re doing or a nice haircut, say it out loud. That small compliment can make a big impact on someone’s attitude—and performance.
It’s important to note that the interpretation of praise is not universal. For instance, in Germany, compliments are seen as superficial. In Israel, compliments are seen as brown-nosing. In some cultures, a hug or cheerleading is effective praise whereas in others it’s seen as inappropriate. If you’re showing gratitude with people from different cultures, be sure to do your homework to understand how to say something nice and have it received the right way.