Are you a praise junkie?
Praise feels good. It can be motivating, and smart leaders use it strategically to inspire people to great things.
But there’s a downside to constantly seeking out praise. It’s like going through life trying to avoid criticism. “You end up sticking with only what other people like. You can’t ever evolve,” says Jessica Lahey, author of the book The Gift of Failure. Not only will you fail to innovate, you can be easily manipulated by people who understand that praise will get you to do what they want. Here’s how to overcome the addiction.
If you’re addicted to praise, “the focus on the end product can actually detract from the work,” says Lahey. “You can’t go through life in a defensive position.” So figure out what you’d like to accomplish. What would you like to say in your year-end performance review? What’s in your five-year plan?
Break these big goals down into doable steps, and create mini-deadlines for achieving these milestones. Focusing on progress is both more satisfying and more objective. You either did it or you didn’t; praise and criticism are beside the point.
While it’s fun to talk to people who think everything you do is fabulous, this feedback has limited use. This is the point of feedback: “I need somebody to guide me from this milestone to the next milestone,” says Theo Tsaousides, author of the new book Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success. If you’re honing your elevator pitch for investors, you want feedback from people who hear lots of such pitches and know what works. If you’re writing a book proposal, you want feedback from agents and editors.
Asking how you did, or what someone thinks, invites casual but empty praise (“You did fine.” “I’m sure it’s great.”) Instead, “Actively ask, ‘What can I do better? What might I work on next time?’” suggests Lahey. Describe what you did in a certain situation and ask what the other person might have done. “Focus on the language of process,” because “talking about process instead of the end product can nudge the conversation in the right direction.”
The best way to get more honest feedback is to thank people profusely for offering it (yes, you’re praising to get what you want–see how that works?). “Embrace it as learning. Embrace it for what it is,” says Lahey. Convey that you are open to it, while understanding that you always hold the trump card. “It’s somebody else’s opinion,” says Tsaousides. “It doesn’t mean you have to change it. It doesn’t mean you have to devalue what you’ve done so far.” Indeed, “the purpose for needing the feedback is to put it into your work, not put it into your worth.”
“If you reach your milestone, give yourself praise,” says Tsaousides. After all, praise does feel good, and if you satisfy this need yourself, you don’t need to seek it out from others with their own agendas. Go ahead and give yourself a gold star. You deserve it.