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Perfecting the Art of Praise | How to Recognize Success in the Workplace

Ashley Fontaine profile image

Ashley Fontaine

woman smiling drinking coffee

In a profession marked by challenges and change, both praise and recognition can have a powerful impact in the workplace. Effectively communicating appreciation has the potential to keep workers engaged, improve retention, boost performance, build trust, and strengthen relationships. Plus, acknowledging the efforts of others contributes to positive office culture and community.

There is no denying that critical feedback has an important place in growth and professional development. But appreciation and praise at work remain equally important. The following tips ensure effective delivery of positive feedback by capitalizing on essential leadership and communication skills.

Be specific


Being acknowledged for a job well done has a way of lifting spirits, affirming hard work, and giving a nod to good intentions. But generic language such as the classic “nice job” can sometimes fall flat—or even feel a bit basic. Empty language does little to convey to employees what’s working and what effective behaviors should be continued.

Using specifics when providing praise helps us feel seen and names the key action supervisors want to see replicated. When giving a colleague a shout-out for timeliness on a project, identify the ways they contributed to the successful completion of a project. Did they stay after hours to finish up slides for a presentation? Did they take the lead on collaboration with co-workers to create meaningful materials? Or did they take extra time to get a newbie up to speed? Being specific with praise lets folks know what they’re doing right.

Recognize effort and results


Social media makes it possible to see impressive outcomes, but doesn't always reveal the growth, challenge, and struggle behind the achievement. As such, it’s now easier than ever to default to impatience or frustration when goals are not accomplished immediately or when behavior change doesn’t happen overnight.

Effective leaders know this, and use positive recognition to fuel the fire of productivity on their team. By acknowledging incremental shifts at an individual level, successful managers send a message that the process is just as important as the end result.

Leaders who see when staff are making strides can boost morale by offering positive feedback in real time. 

Default to “and” instead of “but”

Everyone has heard the dreaded “but.” It’s a three-letter word that negates all that came before. Think: “Thanks for sending the email, but you should not have included the executive director.” Or, “Great job on the grant proposal, but the funding numbers were off.”

What may be meant to convey support and affirmation of one successful action instead comes off as criticism and critique because of an additional accidental misstep. Instead, make it a habit to replace “but” with “and” so appreciation and validation is still clear. “You did a great job on that project budget and we may need you to stay late to help the team out again tonight.” 

This small shift in language can go a long way toward communicating support and admiration for a job well done while still offering directives on what may need to improve or change.

Be gracious in how you give and how you receive


Part of being an effective manager is modeling behavior. This is as true when it comes to giving praise, but it’s also true when it comes to receiving it. 

Being acknowledged for hard work, extra effort, and drive or dedication can sometimes be uncomfortable. Particularly when it means being singled out or thrown into the spotlight during morning meetings or post-work happy hours. Graciously accepting accolades as a leader shows those being managed that it’s okay to be praised, and reminds everyone on the team that hard work is celebrated and never goes unnoticed.

So don't minimize your actions or shake off the positive praise. Instead, make eye contact, say thank you, and even appreciate the person delivering feedback for a contribution they've made to the team's success. Being a leader who is able to accept gratitude fosters an environment that encourages others to say thanks openly, too.

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Know some other effective methods for delivering praise? Tweet at us!

Ashley Fontaine profile image

Ashley Fontaine

Ashley Fontaine is a writer, mental health professional, and former nonprofit executive director. She’s on a mission to eliminate “we’ve always done it that way” from our collective vocabulary by helping leaders focus on possibilities rather than limitations. She believes organizational culture is the key to productivity and staff retention.

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