skip to Main Content

Give Praise That Isn’t Patronizing

Praise usually seems much easier than criticism, but a lot of people actually hesitate to give praise. They worry about coming across as patronizing, pandering, or just insincere. We think that praise is even more important than criticism, so we want to help people learn to give it the right way.

Here’s a question we got from one of our podcast listeners:

I am a new manager of two administrative employees. Their day-to-day tasks are important to my team. Most of the time, the employees do a good job and keep our operations running smoothly.

However, I find myself only giving them negative feedback when something goes wrong. It feels patronizing to give praise when the employees do a good job since their tasks are not tied to specific projects. Do you have any tips for how I might give positive feedback and show appreciation?

Thank you for the great question! First, check out episode 3 of our podcast. We talk with Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, about “Ruinously Empathetic Praise.” There are some great nuggets about what good praise looks like, and the summary is this: good praise is specific and sincere.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Here’s my core piece of advice: You have to really try to look for the good stuff. Many times, we’ve just trained ourselves to be “blind” to all the great little things people do every day because, frankly, we’ve decided “that’s just their job.” Yeah, it is, and it’s ok to convey to people when they are doing their job well, even if that’s what’s expected. Reinforce the good behaviors and the good work, and don’t take for granted that it will just continue forever.

You have to really try to look for the good stuff.

If you really try, I’m sure you’ll see a ton of good stuff that people are doing… And regardless of whether these things are tied to specific projects, you can still give praise in a non-patronizing way.

Be Specific and Share Why It Matters

Remember that the purpose of praise is to help people understand what to do more of, what success looks like, and what is valued.

Whether managing an administrative person or anyone else, I’ve found it helpful to make sure that the person and I were on the same page about the nature – or objective – of their job, and to give praise that made reference to that shared understanding.

Let me give an example for one of my favorite Administrative Assistants, Lauren, that might help you think about this for your situation. So the nature of Lauren’s job was to help me be more effective and efficient with my time, which in turn allowed me to lead my organization better, which in turn helped the organization succeed.

This objective – and our shared clarity of the objective of her role – drove my praise of Lauren. By telling her specifically what she had done, and how it helped fulfill that objective, I was able to make it clear why her work mattered and help her repeat this success. And when you do that, it’s very hard to come across as patronizing.

Here are some examples:

  • Lauren would regularly anticipate a scheduling anomaly and set me up for success by budgeting in travel time or finding opportunities to schedule events that were close to my home at the end of the day to reduce my commute. These are specific things that made my life better, more efficient and led to greater efficacy. I would regularly call out those specifics to her, express my appreciation, and talk about why those things she did were so helpful.
  • Lauren was also my “eyes and ears” – At the time, I had a ~750 person global team, and it was hard to know what was going on all the time. I relied on many sources of information to know the heartbeat of my org, but Lauren was an extremely important one because for a variety of reasons, people would readily confide in her. Many times, she helped me get out in front of an employee relations SNAFU by putting things on my radar.

Clarify Your Thinking with Notes

If you’re having concerns about coming across as patronizing, try this exercise. Go lock yourself in a room right now and don’t come out until you’ve written down 5 good things each person you want to praise has done in the past 7 days. For each thing, write down specifically what the person did, and make a couple of notes of why it mattered. How did it positively impact you, the team, the company, the project? I bet you’ll discover that there is PLENTY of non-patronizing stuff to call out.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter!

What If You Need to Interrupt?

In episode 12 of the Radical Candor podcast, Kim and Russ talked about how to give feedback to someone who frequently interrupts in meetings. Then a few weeks ago, we also shared advice for how to stop your own habit of interrupting. There’s one more question we’ve been getting about this topic…What if you need to interrupt someone?

How do you go about gently telling a person that’s speaking for way too long in a meeting, that his time’s up? And how do we do this without interrupting?

Both Kim and Russ weigh in on this question.

Kim says:

When this happens in a meeting, I think there are a few options. If you’re in front of a group giving a presentation, it can be useful to walk up to the person, so you’re sort of blocking them from the rest of the group with your body, say thanks, and call on somebody else.

If you’re around a table, I’d say something like, “I want to make sure everyone has a chance to speak.”

Russ’s thoughts:

I would agree with Kim, but I would reserve these approaches for times when the person has really been stealing the show over and over in that meeting. If that’s the case, I would first try Kim’s “interrupt with body language” idea. Then when the person takes a breath, make the point that you and the group want to hear from others. You can immediately facilitate to other people, almost like a pre-emptive interruption. So this might mean that you’ve been watching others’ body language and noticed someone who has something to add, and you serve the conversation in their direction.

Another little trick: as you facilitate a new question in the meeting, do what my teachers did in elementary school and say, “What do you think, and someone other than Timmy this time.” It makes Timmy feel like he’s contributing and also sends the message for him to ease back and for others to step up.

After the meeting, and especially if the person is a repeat offender, I think it’s time to offer some feedback. Something like, “You have valuable input and I don’t want that to stop, but I think you’re taking a little too much airtime in our meetings.” Remember to only say these things if they are true! If you’d like, show some research about the most effective teams sharing airtime. You can finish with, “I want to reiterate that your input is valuable, but we need to give others a chance, too. Can you help with that?”

An important guideline to remember: don’t criticize in public. Make sure you’re communicating this feedback to the person after the meeting, in private, rather than in front of the whole team. Realize that while it’s frustrating that the person is talking too much, you do have to be careful about losing his engagement. Offering a correction at all, even if necessary, presents a risk of him retreating. Offering that correction in front of everyone almost guarantees he will retreat.

What ways have you tried to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard in meetings? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

Radical Candor and the Candor Canary at Gem

We have a great story to share with you about a company that rolled out Radical Candor in their organization. Gem, a Los Angeles based blockchain company focused on healthcare and supply chain, recently introduced their 20-person team to Radical Candor and developed a really fun way to recognize their successes. Read on for ideas on rolling out the framework with your team!

– – –

As People Operations Manager at Gem, Madeline Mann had been hearing some feedback from the team about the company culture, but she couldn’t quite put into words what the consensus was. Then a colleague sent her a link to Radical Candor, and as soon as she saw the 2×2 framework, it became obvious: the company’s penchant for Caring Personally was leading them into Ruinous Empathy territory.

To help the team learn about Radical Candor and start moving in the right direction, Madeline kicked off a four week facilitation based on the Radical Candor articles, book, and podcasts. First, she introduced the concept of Radical Candor and the four quadrants, and asked the team to think about their company culture. Where on this 2×2 were interactions at Gem more likely to fall? The team opened up and agreed that they had an unparalleled ability to Care Personally, but that they often failed to Challenge Directly. It was clear to everyone that most interactions at Gem fell firmly in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant.

For the remaining weeks of the facilitation, the team at Gem spent 10 minutes of their weekly all-company meeting to focus on Radical Candor. They introduced new tenants of Radical Candor, shared observations and stories from their week, and gave out an assignment for the week.

For example, one of the weekly assignments for the team was to give Radical Candor to their lead. The team used some tips from Radical Candor Episode 8: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss to help them.

  1. Assume good intent
  2. Ask questions to understand their situation
    1. Get the context
  3. Try “I’m not sure I agree with that, are you open to another perspective?”

At the end of every week, team members rated the interactions that they and the rest of the team had that week. Had they still been in Ruinous Empathy territory, showing they Cared Personally but not Challenging Directly? Or had they moved towards Radical Candor and been able to both Care Personally and Challenge Directly? Here’s how they rated their interactions over the course of the facilitation:

This exercise got team members reflecting on their week and thinking critically about how well they felt both themselves and the team were embodying Radical Candor. They also shared some of the techniques that were working for them to Challenge Directly. For many people on the team, having the shared understanding of Radical Candor, and the term to describe it, made it easier. They would state their intention of offering Radical Candor before giving pointed feedback as a way to quickly acknowledge, “I’m a little uncomfortable saying this, but I’m doing it because I care.”

I’m a little uncomfortable saying this, but I’m doing it because I care.

As a way to encourage and reward their progress beyond the four weeks of facilitation, the Gem team decided to elect one person each week who had excelled at Caring Personally and Challenging Directly. They award this person the “Candor Canary” trophy, a name they chose because canaries are known for constantly singing and being heard. And unlike a dog’s bark or a crow’s caw, a canary’s song is beautiful and welcomed, just like thoughtful feedback.

Congrats to Scott Hoch, Gem’s inaugural Candor Canary winner!

Every week the previous winner of the Candor Canary trophy brings it to the all-company meeting and passes the trophy to someone they saw display great Radical Candor. They share the specific example of the new winner’s excellent candor, so that they can illustrate what success looks like — following the HIP approach of using public praise to help everyone learn.

Now that the facilitation is over, the team continues to practice and work towards Radical Candor. Madeline has seen that the Radical Candor ideas and facilitation have helped team members build the habit of speaking up instead of being a nodding head. Team members have reported coming out of meetings and immediately jumping into feedback conversations about how it went. As one employee put it, “At the very core, it has given the team permission to be more candid.”

– – –

Thank you to Madeline Mann and Gem for sharing this story! We look forward to hearing more about your Radical Candor journey.

Does your company have a Candor Canary equivalent? We’d love to hear about how you’re rolling out Radical Candor!

Are You An Interrupter?

We talked about one of the most frustrating meeting habits in episode 12 of our podcast — interrupting! Kim and I gave some tips about how to handle being interrupted in meetings, and Kim explained some of the reasons that cause people to interrupt. Several listeners wrote in to commiserate about being interrupters and asked for our advice on how to stop.

I just listened to Episode 12 of the podcast, and it really struck a chord. I have been working on my bad interruption habit for years, and I still leave conversations feeling guilty about potentially having railroaded a more soft-spoken colleague or friend. I would love any tips you can give me to help me to keep my enthusiasm in check!
— Enthusiastic interrupter

Enthusiastic, thanks a lot for reaching out and for listening!

I think it’s great that you have this focus on improving yourself. Well done — you will get there.

You can’t change the interrupting behavior overnight, but saying “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off,” is actually a critical first step. By doing that, you are signaling that you recognize the bad habit and want to improve the behavior.

If you start by catching yourself after you interrupt, it is only a matter of time before you start to catch yourself beforehand and build a better habit.

Kim had this idea years ago to wear a rubber band on her wrist and ask people to snap it on her wrist every time she interrupted. I personally couldn’t do it — it felt too mean — but it’s a great way to bring up your consciousness around interruption. She says some other folks were happy to snap it. :)

As Kim mentioned in the podcast, she also realized that her reason for interrupting was her enthusiasm for what people are saying. While this isn’t an excuse that makes interrupting suddenly ok, or even necessarily the reason most people interrupt, it may be helpful to hear how she acted on that realization. Once she was aware that her enthusiasm manifested in ways that shut down the other person, she looked for alternate means of expressing that enthusiasm. Instead of quickly responding with “Yeah! …” or “Right! …”, she looked for nonverbal ways to show her agreement. She smiled and nodded in agreement or otherwise showed her enthusiasm through her body language, instead of jumping to speak. So instead of thinking about how to keep your enthusiasm in check, think about other ways you can express it.

If enthusiasm for the conversation isn’t the reason you interrupt, think about why you’re doing it and if there are other, less frustrating ways to manifest that.

As with anything, though, the first step is awareness/consciousness of the tendency, and then correcting in the moment… after awhile, you will start to make the corrections before the transgression instead of after. Promise.

Quitting with Radical Candor

As we’ve mentioned in a couple of podcast episodes (Ep 13: Help! My Boss is a Micromanager and Ep 8: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss), sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how much great feedback you solicit and give, a job just isn’t going to work out, and you’re going to have to take the advice I got from Gretchen Rubin:

Don’t forget to quit.

Quitting can be really hard. Maybe you’ve got a team that you feel loyal to, or you’ve invested a lot in the company, or you are worried what will happen next. But it’s really important to leave positions that are making you miserable and aren’t going to get better.

If you do decide to quit, keep the ideas behind Radical Candor in mind — Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Here’s how they apply:

1. No surprises.

When you quit, you’re doing two things–moving away from one thing and towards another. Too often, people have remained quiet about what they are not happy about because they are afraid of being fired if they speak up. But, if you’ve decided to quit anyway, why not speak up about what’s bothering you? Maybe there’s a solution and you won’t have to quit!

A good boss gives feedback along the way, and so doesn’t give a poor performance review or fire somebody out of the blue. Similarly, it’s considerate to give your boss some indication of what’s wrong so that they have an opportunity to fix it before you quit. Make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re making ultimatums. Just be clear about what’s driving you away from this job, if there are things. If it’s purely a matter of moving towards something different, explain that clearly.

2. Express gratitude.

Something has been good about this job. Think about the things you are grateful for, and give voice to them. Don’t just share this with your boss, share it with your colleagues as well. When somebody quits, it makes everybody wonder if they should be quitting too. Don’t leave in a way that makes everyone feel lame for staying. You can alleviate this discomfort by focusing on all the things that you appreciated about the job and your colleagues. If it was a hard decision to leave, don’t be afraid to say so.

3. Keep in touch.

A few weeks after you leave, send a note, or if it seems comfortable, go have a coffee or lunch or drinks with people from your old team. You spent a lot of time with these people, and, I hope, developed some kind of personal relationship with them. It can be disorienting if it feels like you dropped off the face of the earth. It’s hard to believe you “cared personally” if you never talk to the people again after you’re no longer working together.

4. Don’t “poach” indiscriminately.

When you leave one job, there may be one or two people with whom you have an especially close relationship and who are likely to “follow” you. That’s to be expected. But don’t gut your former company. Don’t start reaching out to people you don’t know all that well and trying to hire them away.

 

I hope these tips are helpful in making quitting a little less painful for you and the team you’re leaving. If you have more questions, feel free to reach out in the comments below, or more privately here :)

Ruinous Empathy and Recruiting, A Story

Seven years ago, before launching Femgineer and having Kim Scott on FemgineerTV, I had to make my first sales hire for my second startup, BizeeBee. I had never hired a salesperson before. Most of my hiring experience had been with technical folks such as engineers, designers, and product managers. I just figured it would be the same. Find someone who is capable, comes with good references, and then give them some time to ramp up.

I decided to hire Adam. Adam had requested a pretty steep salary for a startup. I figured he’d end up paying for himself with sales, so I didn’t balk at his salary.

Building a Relationship and Caring Personally

Adam’s first month in, I wanted him to feel like he was part of the team because he was one of two non-technical people on it. I made sure to communicate that I was happy to have him on the team. I didn’t know how to onboard Adam but figured he had enough experience, so he didn’t need me to onboard him. And I made myself available to answer any questions or concerns that came up.

Adam reached out to prospects daily. At the end of the week, he informed me of how things were going. I helped him understand the product and work through customer objections.

By month two, I noticed that Adam hadn’t made any sales. My co-founder and I were starting to get nervous. Adam was the highest paid person on the team, and his salary had almost doubled our burn rate.

My co-founder suggested that I talk to Adam. However, I didn’t want to step on Adam’s toes. I reminded my co-founder that we gave our technical team lots of autonomy and we should do the same with our sales team. I went back to praising Adam and making sure he felt like he was a part of the team.

Realizing the Need for Challenging Directly

Month three crept upon us rather quickly. By then, other people on the team, who weren’t particularly skilled at sales, were closing customers. Meanwhile, Adam hadn’t closed a single customer. Those who had closed sales became more vocal about Adam. They came up to me and expressed their concern, which quickly evolved into frustration.

I wasn’t sure what to do. My co-founder and I had a conversation. We talked about how I could coach Adam.

The next day, I pulled Adam aside. I told him that we weren’t happy with his performance and needed to see more sales within the next month. Adam was shocked because I had been giving him nothing but praise. I realized what I had done. I had been Ruinously Empathetic and held back on giving Adam the feedback that he needed to do his job.

Adam didn’t know those were our expectations. He thought he was doing a good job educating prospects. Given how young the product was he really didn’t think he was capable of closing sales. He told me we needed someone who was much more experienced with selling new products and it wasn’t him. So at the end of our conversation he concluded that it would be best for him to leave.

I felt terrible. Because I hadn’t had this conversation earlier, both Adam and the company had lost valuable time. After Adam left I took some time to reflect on what I had done wrong.

Practicing Radical Candor Means Giving and Receiving Feedback

My first mistake was not taking the time to fully understand what goes into hiring sales people and helping them be effective. I made up for it with my second mistake by not challenging directly. Showering Adam with praise that was unspecific, and thinking that if I was just nice to Adam, everything would work out. The third and final mistake was not listening to the others on my team. I dismissed their early feedback, thinking that they were being too harsh, but they weren’t. They were looking into the best interest of the company and bringing to my attention that I was failing to do my job.

After the experience, I took the time to educate myself on what it takes to hire and train sales people. I also let my team know that I appreciated them for having the courage to practice Radical Candor, to Challenge me Directly while showing that they Cared Personally. Had they not spoken up, I would have just kept going. I made sure that they knew going forward I’d do a better job of listening when they gave me feedback, and even do better with asking for their Radical Candor.

Withholding feedback that can help someone do their job better because we’re afraid of their reaction is an act of Ruinous Empathy. In the end, we set them up for failure.

We also have to learn to listen to feedback that is directed towards us, even if we don’t initially agree with it or understand it. Otherwise, we set a bad precedent that our behavior is right and theirs is wrong.

When was the last time you failed to Challenge Directly because you were trying to be nice? How did others around you take it? And what did you do to course correct it?

Let us know in the comments below!

Back To Top