Friday, May 25, 2007


Choose Your Word Carefully

Browsing through a technorati search, I came across these words, "A special note of thanks to all ?????? readers, contributors, and commenters for your participation and support. The quality and maturity of blog posts and discussion has been increasingly outstanding ..."

Having some familiarity with the blog in question, I can only assume that most if not all of the people to whom this note was addressed are not only adults but well educated, successful adults. I would be insulted if another adult told me I was being "mature." In doing so, the other person assumes to be judge over my maturity.

With my own children, I never accuse them of being immature nor praise them for being mature. I talk with them about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. And, I define which is which. I explain to them, in so many words, that different sets of rules apply for home, school, church, restaurants, etc. If I tell them they are being immature, I am insulting them, and, conversely, telling them they are being mature is a backhanded insult.

I can only imagine what the reaction would be in my company if, during an all employee meeting which we have quarterly, the CEO complimented us for being mature. It would provide laughs for several months.

Communicating with others is certainly a valuable skill. I work very hard at communicating with my children, as a professor once said, "concisely and precisely." My stomach turns when I hear parents try to "reason" and "explain" something to a kids in a too "nice" way. Just tell the kid what's acceptable and what isn't and stand by your words.

I had this conversation with a woman at work today. She agreed with me and claimed to take the same approach. I believe her because her daughter, now in her mid-twenties, is as fine a person as you'll ever meet.

This is one area in which my ex-wife and I work together fairly well. I don't care for her style but she rarely fails to let the kids know where she stands on behavioral expectations, school performance and such. And, her expectations are quite close to mine.

I like to praise my kids but with caution. Give too much praise and it loses its meaning. Give praise for sub-par performance and it damages more than helps. Give praise with too much of a flourish and it becomes an embarrassment. Matter of fact praise seems to work best with my kids. I use words like "great" and "wonderful" but with a moderated tone so as not to over do it.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I have received came from the tape for Dare To Win by Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield. The advice was to praise your kids and talk highly of them.

But, the advice was to praise and talk highly of your kids to others within earshot of your kids. By doing so, you instill in your kids your faith in them plus set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy because your kids will want to live up to the faith you have in them.

I've rambled but the message is, Be very careful with your words. Praise can become an insult. Intentions can be lost. Or, you can set in motion a series of positive events that may continue past your lifetime.

Tell us more. How can praise become an insult? I feel that's true but would like to know what you mean.
Jau, it's called a "left handed compliment." Others call it daming with faint praise. As a therapist, I once had a client with a Ph.D. in English lit who was seeking counseling for some self esteem issues and depression. During one session, I commented that her believing the worse about herself as a result of some underlings comment was not in keeping with her being bright, witty, and knowing. She was quite offended that given a Ph.D., I had called her bright, I mean, after all!!
I really can't think of a better example of praise being an insult than praising a mature adult for being mature. The maturity should be understood. When you praise someone you put yourself in the position of judge and evaluator of that person. This would certainly be an insult to anyone who considers theirself to be your equal.

Wikipedia gives a pretty good overview of why praise is often ineffective. Sometimes when I praise my kids they'll respond, "Gosh, Dad didn't you think I could do it?" Or, "Of course, you'll say that you're my Dad." I think the same traps exist between supervisors/managers and employees and in other social settings.

There's a fine line here between encouragement, recognition and praise. A basic message I give my kids is to work hard and they can accomplish any realistic goal they have. The heaviest praise I generally give them is "Good job! I knew you could do it."
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