Leadership When Dealing With Difficult People

by on June 29, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Praising someone can easily backfire if you’re dealing with difficult people

We’ve all heard how important it is to praise people for a job well done. Nearly any management book says so. But few are candid enough to tell you that well-intentioned efforts when dealing with difficult people can bite back.

Here are five ways praise can have unexpectedly negative results:

  1. It can feel threatening.

    Pay attention to the way people react when you praise them. If few say “thank you” right away, it could be because praise comes off as a judgment of their behavior. That often makes people uncomfortable, or suspicious of your motivation.

  2. Praise reinforces your status.

    The very reason you take the time to stop by and praise someone is because you can. That can remind people on lower rungs of the corporate ladder that you have power over them and can sit in judgment. Many workers find “position power” intimidating.

  3. Praise may not be what the employee really needs.

    If someone needs your hands-on help, guidance, moral support (or even a swift kick, if you’re dealing with difficult people) they usually know it, down deep – and may view praise from you as a dismissive cop-out.

  4. Praise can foreshadow criticism.

    A lot of people will be waiting for the medicine that often follows a sugary spoonful of praise. Especially if that is already part of your management style for dealing with difficult people.

  5. It can be used to signal the end of a conversation.

    Some managers use praise-like statements to end conversations. Thus, “It’s been good talking with you” is really code for “you’re dismissed.”

There’s no doubt that praise can be effective at motivating behavior and generating renewed enthusiasm.

The key is to make sure that the praise you give is genuine and believable. When praise is used for some other purpose, especially to make the giver feel more important, praise will fall on deaf ears – and eventually wear away credibility.

Source: Adapted from “Management of the Absurd”, by Richard Farson, John Wiley & Sons.

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