It is the funniest thing. We, as human beings, are extraordinarily good at pointing out when things are going wrong, but we are surprisingly reticent to come forward and lavish praise upon people when they do things right. When sales are up, many managers simply take it in stride with quiet satisfaction. But when they are down, they hit the roof, threatening the loss of jobs and all sorts of hellfire. That is a subject which perplexes motivational speaker Clive Price and it forms the subject of a presentation he gave recently in Johannesburg, entitled: Catching people
doing things right.
The concept is simple enough: you can castigate all you want when things are wrong, and you can even get away with it without your colleagues or employees walking off muttering curses under their breath – as long as you are equally able and willing to pile on the praise when things are going right.
Price is quite specific about this notion however. “It isn’t a matter of pointing out every single good thing that someone does. To an extent, it is their job to do things right, and if you are praising them for doing their job, then you may as well be patting them on the back just for turning up. No, I mean that you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge excellent work, when something has been done exceptionally well,” he says.
Price, who was once the sales director for JSE-listed Gallo, knows a thing or two about managing sales teams and confesses he isn’t proud that while he was there, his nickname was ‘The machine gun”. You can probably imagine the management style that earned him that moniker.
Today, he says, he has calmed a little and sees more value in offering praise and constructive criticism for good work than he does in nailing people for doing things wrong. But Price says that giving praise in a way that is useful is not a matter of meeting someone in the hallway and tipping them a wink. To him, there is a process. “How about calling someone into your office and giving them constructive criticism on what they are doing well in a formal way. Wow! Now that is a challenge,” he says. “Yet I would suggest that if you are able to offer positive feedback with the same energy and enthusiasm and genuine feeling as you can offer negative feedback then you are onto a winning wicket.”
Price asks: “When you were at school and you got a notice saying that you had to report to the headmaster’s office at break, how many of you thought it was cool? How many of you thought, hell, this is lekker, we are going to have a nice chat, and maybe a cup of coffee …?”
The question is tongue-in-cheek of course, because nobody ever got summoned to the headmaster’s office for a pat on the back, they got summoned because they were going to be punished.
But how many people feel exactly the same way today when they are asked to come into the boss’s office?
Why is that? Price believes it is partly a hangover from that old school feeling when being summoned could only mean trouble, but he also says that a big part of the problem is that many bosses behave just as those headmasters did, taking interest only when there was punishment to be doled out. Be honest now, are you one of those?
The art of giving compliments
According to Price, we are bad at giving compliments because we don’t know how. And by and large, for that matter, we don’t know how to receive them. A pat on the back is easy to take, but a really big compliment leaves us feeling that the person doling it out is blowing smoke up you know where. But give a reason for the compliment, says Price, and it suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. “You are a really great communicator,” makes you feel uncomfortable. “You are a really great communicator and I am genuinely impressed with the way you turned that angry client into a happy one by patiently dealing with their complaint,” is an entirely different thing. It is immediately more sincere and because it is linked to a specific recent happening, it is also relevant and simple to understand.