Even in completely broken organizations, I have had the pleasure of working with folks who were really able to perform. They were rarely singled out for recognition and on the unusual event of being praised, my experience is that most people dismiss it: It would be immodest to agree; It can be uncomfortable to have a spotlight on you; Acceptance might raise or lower your status away from where you want it; You might not be sure whether you warrant the recognition. I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate or reasonable explanations for dismissing praise. I’m saying that even when praise is offered it can be hard to make it stick.
To my mind, people don’t hear how appreciated they are often enough. Or often at all. I have heard some arguments for being stingy with praise, but I have not found any compelling. If you are one of these practicing praisemisers, please comment. I’m prepared, if leery, to be convinced. Simple devil’s advocates needn’t bother – it’s going to take both rationality and passion to sway me.
When I say praise, I mean a merit-based compliment or token supported by evidence, cited or personally verified. Giving praise necessarily forces me to invest myself twice in delivering it.
- I am singling myself out as having paid attention, so I am expected to know what I am talking about. I need to be a credible source.
- When I provide evidence, I cannot help but tie my reputation to my comments. Since my comments have to do with your actions, I stake a piece of my rep on your past and future actions. The stronger the praise, the more of my rep I am staking.
I am not kidding around when I recognize praiseworthy work. When receiving praise, dismissing or deflecting it peripherally impacts the giver. You don’t have to be graceful, just gracious. If you would like to deflect the attention, accept and build: “Thanks for that. The real hero here is Amelia. Without her…” Notice the conspicuous lack of the word but tying the two sentences together. But is an inelegant acceptance limiting mechanism. Don’t try to sneak in a dismissal or deflection with a lazy language convention.
Even if you disagree with the praise, be gracious: “Thank you. In this instance, I find myself obliged to point out that all the credit belongs with…” Is my example graceful? Not even vaguely. It's practically all face saving disclaimer. Keep in mind that your refusal to accept praise can impact the giver personally and professionally.
Am I guilty of refusing praise? You bet. And when I catch myself unintentionally refusing it, I suck up my discomfort and accept the recognition. In fact, I’m about to do that shortly. It's not like I'm modest.