Mark Twain once said, “I could live for two months on one good compliment.”

We all love to receive compliments.  They make everyone feel better.  Turns out studies show that compliments can also help people perform better.

In a study published in PLoS One, researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences at the University of Tokyo, recruited 48 adults to perform a task that required them to tap items on a keyboard in a specific pattern.  Then the adults were split into three groups.  One group received personalized, individual compliments from one of the administrators of the study.  Another group was forced to watch as other people received compliments.  The third group was simply meant to evaluate how they did, as participants, on the test.

When the participants returned to the testing facility the next day, all of the participants were asked to perform the finger test once again.  The group that received personalized compliments performed better on the test that day than either of the other groups.  Researchers believe that the compliments made them perform better.

According to their study, compliments activate the same region of the brain – the striatum – as cash does, and both encourage people to perform better.  In other words, compliments may not buy your groceries, but they sure help.

Norihiro Sadata, one of the study authors, said, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.  We’ve been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise.  There seems to be scientific validity behind the message ‘praise to encourage improvement.’”

Compliments are a powerful social and work-related tool.  If you want to make a positive impression at work, be generous with compliments.  Show appreciation to co-workers (and even your boss) for their good work. When giving compliments, the more specific the better.  This shows you notice the little things. 

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Compliments not only reassure people, they create positive energy, strengthen relationships and build trust.  They are a sign of respect.

You don’t need to be an expert at giving compliments.  You just need to be sincere and genuine.  Many people know how to flatter, few know how to praise.  Sincere praise reassures individuals.  It helps them neutralize doubts they have about themselves.  Just remember, the sweetest of all sounds is praise.  Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.

At MackayMitchell Envelope Company, we are intensely grateful for customer referrals, which we consider to be the ultimate compliment.  When customers are happy with our service and products, there is no better validation than for them to tell their friends.

Everyone likes a pat on the back and a hearty “well done.”  But making praise a truly effective motivational tool requires a little planning.  Like anything else, praise loses its effectiveness if it’s overused.  On the other hand, power is diminished if it’s underused. 

The purpose of workplace praise is to improve productivity and reinforce positive behavior.  Try to offer some sort of praise or positive feedback at least once a month.  Give extra attention to new employees, those who seem to lack confidence, or team members testing the waters with new assignments.  Otherwise, focus on those making an extra effort, accomplishing a difficult task, or exhibiting behavior you want others to emulate.

Don’t ignore the flip side of giving compliments.  The givers benefit through improved moods, enhanced positivity and awareness.

Nearly 100 years ago, Charles M. Schwab was one of the first men to earn a million dollars a year working for someone else.  Schwab was paid such a handsome amount largely because of his ability to deal with people.

Schwab described his secret:  “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.  There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of man as criticism from his superiors.  I never criticize anyone.  I believe in giving a man incentive to work.  So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault.  If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”

A hundred years later, his advice still works for men and women alike.

Mackay’s Moral:  As I’ve said a million times, little things don’t mean a lot … they mean everything.

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