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The Eight Rules of Management
by Gregory Blencoe


Rule #7: Use Praise Instead of Criticism

There are some managers that shell out criticism as if they were handing out candy on Halloween in a neighborhood filled with youngsters.  There are some managers that would get more pleasure from pulling out their own teeth without anesthesia than by dishing out a compliment.  If an employee does 95% of a project right, there are some managers that will always solely dwell on the 5% that was wrong.  To these managers I say: it is time to change.

Criticizing employees is one of the most counterproductive tools that managers utilize.  It may make you feel better in the short run, but it will cause you a lot more headaches in the long run.  Criticism causes bitterness and makes employees (consciously or subconsciously) want to get back at the manager.  Managers need to realize that while people honestly want to do a good job, constantly criticizing them is like throwing water on the fire of their ambition.  Therefore, managers should resist the temptation to criticize because they are only shooting themselves in the foot. 

Many managers have a very difficult time understanding this concept.  The irrational thought process of the manager is that if employees are criticized, that will motivate them to want to do something positive because of the unpleasantness of the negative reinforcement.  In reality, employees will expend their energy trying to keep from being criticized rather than focusing their efforts on doing their job well.

Is there any way to correct negative behavior of good employees without being degrading?  We all know that everybody makes mistakes.  But when an experienced employee makes a really big mistake or too many minor mistakes, managers should use a technique called a “positive” reprimand.  This is where the manager basically tells the employee “You are better than this” by citing examples of good work the employee has done and showing how the current behavior is out of the norm.  What you’re doing is allowing the employee to save face because you’re putting a positive spin on a negative situation.

Some managers might say, “Well, I have a terrible employee who is lazy, unproductive, and makes a lot of mistakes.  What am I supposed to do, compliment them?”  No, of course not.  In this case, the manager should have already done one of two things.  Either that employee should have never been hired in the first place or if they looked good in the interview and turned out to be a dud, then they should have been fired and replaced with somebody who would do a good job.  This shows how important it is to surround yourself with high quality employees in the first place.

On the other hand, praising employees is an extremely powerful motivator because it is nourishment for people’s self-esteem.  When employees are complimented, they get a warm, fuzzy, magical feeling inside.  It makes them feel good about themselves and subsequently they perform better.  In addition, the manager’s job becomes easier because positive reinforcement of actions gets those actions repeated.  Employees will then begin to seek out more ways to earn praise by working harder and more productively.  To illustrate how important it is for people to receive praise, think about all of the keepsakes of success that we retain to remind ourselves of this feeling.  You can go inside almost anybody’s house and find several dust covered trophies or well-worn certificates of achievement.

Although it is good to praise employees, managers should not overdo it.  If you praise employees every hour of every day, how do you think they will feel?  Clearly, the value of the words will be diminished and the employees will probably feel that you are trying to manipulate them. Also, all praise given to employees should be genuine.  Praising employees half-heartedly or insincerely can do more damage than no praise at all.

So why is it that a lot of managers defy common sense and continue to criticize employees?  The truth is, many managers find it difficult to give compliments, recognition, and praise.  The most likely reason is that it is very difficult to give a compliment to someone else if they don’t feel good about themselves.  Managers are typically ambitious high achievers and some people like that are extremely tough on themselves.  That “inner voice” is then projected onto employees in managerial situations.

Praise is like putting water on a plant.  Criticism is like putting acid on a plant.  Will your employee morale blossom or wilt?

Rule #8


The Author

The Art of Management

Gregory J. Blencoe is a management consultant and author of The Art of Management.  He has written articles for numerous magazines including Success, Human Resources Executive, Business Credit, and Canadian Business Franchise.  Please feel free to contact him with any questions at

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Copyright 2001 by Gregory J. Blencoe. All rights reserved.

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