I was raised professionally to use tough love, those tactics that seem harsh on the surface but are intended to help you improve. Fast forward a few years and I’ve come to appreciate a different style, one where you spend more time encouraging and less time hammering. I was reading a blurb on being a better boss and came across the following tip: Unusual bosses give undeserving compliments (http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/advisor/7-unusual-things-great-bosses-do.html ). Hmm. Do we do people a service or a disservice when we give them undeserving compliments?
My early role models were often hard on you day to day but gave glowing comments in your annual appraisal or when you left (and isn’t that ironic?). They did this believing it meant more when you received occasional praise. Or did it? In hindsight, I don’t think it’s the most effective strategy since it left me alternating daily between fearing for my job and hating my boss. After the occasional praise, I would glow for a while, at least until the next bout of tough love. Yes, I tried harder and, yes, it made me more independent. However, it missed teaching me a crucial lesson about building relationships – it’s hard to build a relationship with someone you fear, after all.
So, back to the item on Yahoo… what’s the point of giving supposedly undeserving compliments, are they of any use? This reminds me of my hairdresser, who always tells me I look marvelous. He then goes on to talk about how I obviously take care of myself by working out or eating well. I’ll bet you think he’s insincere, that he says this to all of his clients. You’re probably right but I walk out of his salon feeling like a million bucks. This halo lasts for days and inspires me to live up to his words by working out or staying away from junk food. So, did I look marvelous? Nah. But did it inspire me to be better? Absolutely.
When we give undeserving compliments, are we encouraging the wrong behavior? Do we give people the wrong impression that they are good just as they are? I’m willing to take that risk because I think it’s more likely that the recipient stands up just a bit taller and works harder at living up to your compliment.