7 Tips for Giving Effective Praise

Gretchen Rubin on creating your own personal happiness

Gold-star junkie that I am, I was once grumbling to my mother about the fact that some extraordinarily praiseworthy effort on my part had gone unremarked. My mother wisely responded, “Most people probably don’t get the appreciation they deserve.” That’s right, I realized — for instance, my mother! Whom I certainly don’t give enough praise for everything she does for me.

This got me thinking about the importance of praise, and how to praise effectively. The right words of praise can be so encouraging — but bland, empty praise is meaningless.

1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn’t make much of an impression.

2. Find a way to praise sincerely and realistically. It’s a rare situation where you can’t identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy.

3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation. It makes the praise seem like a set-up.

4. Look for something less obvious to praise – a more obscure accomplishment or quality that a person hasn’t heard praised many times before.

5. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already. I’ve noticed that even people who get constant praise – or perhaps especially people who get constant praise – crave praise. Is this because praiseworthy people are often insecure? Or does getting praise lead to a need for more praise? I’m not sure, but it seems often to be the case.

6. Praise people behind their backs. The praised person usually hears about the praise, and behind-the-back praise seems more sincere than face-to-face praise.

7. Beware when a person asks for your honest opinion. This is often a clue that they’re seeking reassurance, not candor.

Praise is gratifying to the person getting praised, of course, but it also boosts the happiness of the praiser — at least I’ve found that true of myself. Because the way we feel is very much influenced by the way we act, by acting in a way that shows appreciation, discernment, and thoughtfulness, we make ourselves feel more appreciative, discerning, and thoughtful. And that boosts happiness.

Have you thought of any other good ways for giving people deserved praise?

Editor’s Note: Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

5 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    I find that the longest-lasting praise is that conveyed by the written word.  .  . especially if the writer is able to elaborate a bit on the effect of what the person has done has meant to others.
    What the person praised really enjoys is to read and re-read the words, hold them, keep them for time when they need a lift. 

    Praise given in public places, applause for the donor, the pomp and circumstance that goes along with it usually is in situations where it is expected.  But later, in private conversation, using phrases such as “I will never forget your kindness in helping . . . “, fleshing out the story, makes the person swell with pride and happiness.

    To close friends:  “I couldn’t have done this without you .  . ” followed by a warm hug does wonders.

  2. avatar mary burdt says:

    Dear Joan—I couldn’t have done it without you.

    So often through your writings on Wow, you have gotten me to look at things in a different light. Always positive, I look forward to your postings. You are some super lady and if it wasn’t for this site, we would never have met. I think of you as a friend.
    Many hugs,


    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      Mary .  .  . through all of our correspondence thru Wow, I am so aware that the two of us are on the same track, thinking alike.  But more than that, as if we think and then always move that step or steps forward, our lives are wasted.  I continue to think that we are here to do for others — and as you also know, each days brings others’ challenges that want to spill out to me.  Often they may have written twice or three times when things bother them, and – as often I am working and unable to answer until later — but I take each letter and respond — after thinking deeply.  No cliches – and when things are bad for them, I say they are bad.  I get it.  I believe it helps to sometimes say nothing except to “understand” and say so.  It helps them to share — and I never cease to learn something more and helpful myself.  I am always, always there for my friends – always taking the extra step as I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. 

      Remember when our mothers said:  Treat others as you would like to be treated?  They can be almost strangers and I am there.  . and I don’t think about it. 

      I too think of you, Mary, as a friend — a friend who “gets it”,  does not settle for cliches, and has a heart that is very deep.  And we have a wonderful gift.


  3. avatar D C says:

    Sometimes praise “behind your back” can leave you baffled — during my end of year evaluation my boss of 6 months, who praises me often, mentioned that HIS boss had been “impressed” by me and wondered what I had done to get his attention.  Evidently, his boss hadn’t mentioned anything specific, but during the meeting where everyone under them is assessed for rank and bonus, I had been singled out as worthy.  It’s really nice, and I got a promotion… but I have no idea what I did.  So I just keep doing what I do. 

  4. avatar D C says:

    Many years ago, my now 18 year old son had a really excellent kindergarten teacher.  He was a handful, and she had him towing the line within the first two weeks of school.  She was an experienced teacher, and was doing a great job.  Near the end of the school year, along with her teacher gift, I wrote her a very sincere note telling what a huge difference she had made in the life of my child and how much we appreciated her.  Then during the last week of school I was on campus for something (can’t remember just what — it’s been a while) and I spoke with her and she shared how much that letter meant to her, especially since she had been let go — they had not renewed her contract.  She said evidently that her class made too much noise, and the principal thought she had no control over the kids.  I was shocked because I know SO many teachers (it runs in the family) and I know a good one when I see one.  I was glad to have let her know how great a job she did at a time when her quality was being called into question.