How to Reward People with Words

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

~ Leo Buscaglia

How to Reward People with Words

By Loren Ekroth

What gets rewarded (like good work) will continue, even increase.

Where? In the workplace, in the classroom, and in the home.

Although people like to be lauded with general words such as “Good job,” specific praise is more effective.  Example: “I really appreciate you being prompt and well-prepared for our meetings.”

Such compliments are best delivered in a timely way. For example, shortly after your employee turns in her report and you’ve had time to read it.

Then (not the following week) you tell her “Your report was wonderfully written, very clear and succinct. I really value the care you give to these projects.”

When a manager, parent, or teacher is on the lookout to “catch people doing something right,” they’ll notice more of these instances of excellence.

In the home, offer genuine praise for jobs well done at the time they’re completed. “Billy, thanks for finishing your homework without my having to remind you. I know I can count on you to do it on your own.”

Such instances are countless, and here are 3 common examples:

  • Student A tutors student B on how to solve a math problem.
  • Employee suggests a way to save his company money.
  • Without being asked, husband prepares an excellent family meal.

When someone meets ordinary expectations, simple acknowledgements will suffice. “Thanks for being back in your seats so we can get started on time.”

When a person performs “beyond the call,” they deserve a genuine compliment. “Great job in handling that difficult customer, Joe. You kept your composure, and he went away satisfied.”

When a person does something extraordinary, they deserve to be celebrated in front of others: “I want to acknowledge Susan for her magnificent planning for our annual meeting. Because of her efforts, the meeting went smoothly, and we came away with great results.”

A few caveats when praising others:

  1. Be genuine in your words. Don’t flatter.
  2. Praise judiciously, even sparingly. Praising overmuch cheapens the effect.
  3. Be willing to share negative comments when behavior has not met the expected standard. (“You can only say ‘yes’ as loud as you can say “no.”)

An example of “too much undeserved praise.” I have noticed in some elementary school parking lots that the majority of cars have bumper stickers that say things like “My Child Is a Star Pupil at Wilson Elementary.”

Really? Are all those kids “honor students”? I doubt it. Even the kids know better — that they are not consistently “wonderful” or “excellent.”

Remember the “self-esteem movement” some years ago that recommended adults only affirm young people? It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. People — employees, students, and family members alike –see through this.

So, when you praise others, be genuine, specific, timely, and selective.

From “Better Conversations” newsletter by Loren Ekroth.  Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013. All Rights reserved. Dr.  Ekroth is creator of information products to improve conversation, such as “Small Talk Success Tips” and a free newsletter at

Coaching Call To Action

I have worked with clients who expected good work from their employees and acknowledged them by continuing to employ them.  As you can imagine, there wasn’t a lot of loyalty from the employees.  Are you the type of leader who acknowledges the good work of others verbally?  What could you do this week to provide even better feedback and praise?