Encouragement vs. Praise

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“Humans need encouragement much like plants need water… We constantly encourage or discourage those around us and thereby contribute materially to their greater or lesser ability to function.”

Rudolf Dreikurs, Author, Psychologist

Discouraged people are those most in need of encouragement but are often the ones with whom we feel least inspired to give it. That’s especially true during this period in our US history. I assert encouragement is top priority in every situation, but unfortunately most people often praise instead, which can have the opposite effect; it discourages people. Here are distinctive differences between each:


Motivated by Others: Extrinsic Motivation

Interpretation: “If I don’t perform, then I’m not good, you’re not proud, I’m guilty of making you sad.”

1. Praise places value and worth outside people.
“I am so proud of you. You make me happy when…” (Focuses on other’s pleasure – manipulative)

2. Stimulates rivalry and competition.“You are the best. You’re better than…” (Comparative)

3. Fosters self-absorption at expense of others

4. Focuses on evaluation of performance “You have the highest sales and win the bonus.” (Comparative – often patronizing)

5. Emphasis is on global evaluation of a person. 

6. The deed and doer are synonymous. Praised people can feel discouraged; burdened by the high standards of others. “You’re wonderful, great, amazing!”(Generalized and expresses other person’s evaluation)

7. Fosters discouragement, influences quitting.

8. Fosters fear of failure and motivation to prove self. “Go get that client – make us/me proud!” (Pressure to excel or prove capability to others)

9. Expresses judgments of good or bad, worthy or not. “I am so proud. I couldn’t be happier with you.” (Focus is on the authority figure)

10. Cannot be given during times of failure. “I’m so proud you lost that big sale (?!).”

Long-range effects: Dependence on others, fear of failure, doing minimum to stay under the radar. Developing into a people-pleaser, brown-noser, growing fearful and mistrusting of one’s own intuition, ideas, or initiatives. Fosters pseudo-community, chaos, and expanded internal negative judgement. Discourages innovation and healthy, authentic communication and teamwork. Sets up win/lose and poor dynamics with anyone perceived to have authority or power-over who must be kept happy. Makes one strive to prove their self-worth. Because praise is based on performance, it is not used during times of failure.


Motivated From Within: Intrinsic Motivation

Interpretation: “I am secure for who I am, not what I do, I decide what matters to me”

1. Encouragement places value and worth within.“You really seem to love your work” (Focuses on your pleasure)

2. Stimulates cooperation and contribution.

3. Fosters self-esteem; does not hurt others. “You contributed when you…” (Non-comparative)

4. Focuses on effort, persistence, joy, determination.

5. Emphasis is on a specific contribution. “You helped ____people today by…”  (Non-comparative, focuses on contribution)

6. The deed and doer are distinctly separate. Person accomplishes despite comments, which are descriptive.
“The company benefited from your ideas on… “(Specific description focuses on contribution)

7. Fosters persistence/determination.

8. Fosters self-acceptance and personal satisfaction. “You really like to work hard and get a lot of sales.” (Acknowledges effort for personal pleasure)

 9. Expresses faith other is lovable, loving, and capable. “You seem to enjoy getting results and keeping a positive attitude.” (Focus is on inner qualities)

10. Can be offered anytime. “You put everything you had into your work.”

Long-range effects: Self-confidence, self-reliance, takes risks, accepts mistakes, and enjoys experiences. Builds courage, innovation, creativity, healthy teamwork, collaboration and flexibility. People feel good about effort rather than only outcomes. Inspires greater engagement and effort from inside people. Encouragement is possible even when someone fails. “I notice how much you love baseball and really put your heart and soul into it. Even though you struck out this time, you should still be proud of yourself for all you do to improve.” 

Right now is a time many people need encouragement to be their best selves. Do all you can to build to courage and confidence in yourself and others while being mindful in your approach. Consistent encouragement has the power to change the world. To get help in creating an encouraging culture in your work, home or school, give me a call at 314.239.4727 or email judy@lifeworksystems.com. We have many solutions to bring positive results. And make sure to check out our latest training specials at www.getmytrainingspecials.com.

This article was published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in the St. Louis Small Business Monthly, October 2016 

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