Using my Nudel — I’m gonna praise you

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By Craig Nudelman

We’re currently experiencing life with a ‘threenager’. Our little Jessie has become quite the balabusta in our home, and with it comes certain challenges. 

So we’ve created a star chart for her. At first it was just for the potty, but it later developed into things like for waking up at an appropriate time so that her mommy and daddy could get enough sleep. When she does something that may cross certain lines, we can take a star away. Now Jessie knows that when she does something that is good, she gets praised via her star chart. 

Validity and motivation are key in facilitating our reasons to do something. We all have goals, and often the motivation comes from within. Self-motivation is an amazing quality which is extremely beneficial, whether you’re a toddler or a more mature individual. However, when we continue to do something positive without any recognition, apathy and demotivation can occur. 

Victor Lipman, writing for Psychology Today, states that the powerful yet effortless task of praise is underutilised. He explains that there are four reasons why praise, which is so effortless, can be so rewarding for an organisation. The first is that it costs practically nothing. The second is that it requires very little effort. The most simple words, “Good job”, “nice work”, “well done on that project you’ve completed”, take very little time and require no managerial energy and time. The third and fourth are as clear cut: Praise makes employers feel good, and when they feel good, they are more productive. 

Tom Rath and David O. Clifton, in How Full is your Bucket?, discuss productivity and engagement in the workplace. They use stats from the US Department of Labour, to show that the number-one reason people leave their jobs is because they “do not feel appreciated”. Not only that, but there are also physical implications for employees who are not happy at work. They use a study by British psychologist and psychotherapist George Fieldman, who states that “(p)eople who work with bosses they’ve really hated constantly for years would probably be quite vulnerable to heart disease because of the elevation of blood pressure in the long-term.” 

However, I don’t only want praise from those in positions senior to mine. As a teacher, I also crave validation from my students. It’s a really interesting phenomenon. I am, ostensibly, the dominant individual in the student/teacher relationship, with the power to mete out praise for good work and behavior. Yet, I want my students to acknowledge the time and effort that I put into my lesson plans, my marking and my teaching style. Last year one of my students came up to me after every lesson and thanked me. It was, in a way, like a drug. I needed that fix of a student’s approval and couldn’t wait to have her thank me for that day’s class. 

Tim Hodges, who wrote an article in Gallup titled, Why Appreciating Teachers is More Important Than You Think, agrees that we need to be valued for what we do. In a survey he cites, only 29% of people responded positively to the statement: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” He suggests that the positive effects of regular recognition and praise for teachers results in: higher productivity; better engagement; they are more likely to stay at that particular school; and more likely to receive higher satisfaction scores from students and parents”. 

However, some people are reluctant to use the word ‘praise’, especially with regards to children. On the website positivediscipline.com, the writer suggests that praise only allows external feedback, which makes the student or child become dependent on that. Receiving an overdose of superficial positive feedback can foster inertia in children and decrease their motivation to achieve their best. Instead, we should encourage students, since this teaches internal validation. Here the student can be stirred into being motivated to achieve to their fullest potential. However, the article does acknowledge that children desire praise, and much like being addicted to sugar, they need that rush of validation. 

There are so many questions we have to ask ourselves. How can we work to our optimal level without our employers, teachers or parents saying that we’re amazing? How do we ensure that our peers or employees feel happy and stimulated? And how do we teach the youth of today to be self-motivated? 

There’s clearly a delicate balance between positive validation and shallow praise, the maintenance of which can have major effects on productivity, personal development and levels of happiness. I hope that in 2019 you can find that balance. 

Wishing you all a productive and positive new year. 

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