In an earlier post we gave examples of “low-involvement” employee praise that sounds harmless but can actually have negative effects. For example, saying “Great idea, Joe” in a meeting and then hurrying to the next agenda item (leaving Joe feeling like he had a stinker of an idea).
Now let’s talk about an even more harmful misuse of praise. Imagine you work for Andy. He tells you on Friday at 4:59 p.m. that he’s terribly sorry, but he needs you to write a research paper over the weekend and hand it in at 8 a.m. Monday morning. You accept the challenge. But you make a little too merry on Friday night, sleep until 3 p.m. on Saturday and then forget about the paper until 10 p.m. Sunday night. At which point you scramble to put together a mediocre effort full of half-baked research and sloppy conclusions. You hand it in first thing Monday morning and wait for the ax to fall.
But it doesn’t. Your boss tells you later in the day, “Fine job on that report.”
If you’re a slacker, you’re high-fiving yourself because you were clever enough to snooker your idiot boss. But what if you’re good? What if you’re really ambitious? You might be thinking, “My boss has no standards. If I’d handed him a masterpiece, he wouldn’t have recognized it. Do I really want to entrust my career to someone like that?”
The answer, of course, is no. A real star might put his or her resume on the street after an incident like this. It shows how high the stakes are when managers give performance feedback to employees. Even positive feedback can blow up in our faces.
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