Expressing your support to a friend or family member trying to reach a goal can be a tricky process. Many people assume that the phrase "I'm proud of you" should be sufficient in all situations, but in many cases it is not. It expresses your approval of the situation, but does not actually praise the individual. Many experts, including therapist Alyson Schafer and family therapist Doug Britton, recommend using encouraging phrases that put the focus on the accomplishments and the individual, rather than your approval of the situation.
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Change the focus of the phrase. By saying "You should be proud of yourself" instead of "I am proud of you," you are showing your approval of their accomplishment without putting the focus on yourself.
Use concrete examples of an individual's growth and accomplishments. Doug Britton, family therapist and President of the LifeTree Institute, explains that by accentuating the positive, you can show your approval of an individual even if they have recently suffered a setback or failure.
Write a note or letter. This is especially appropriate for praising an employee, which should be done in private. Use phrases such as "I am very grateful for the high-quality work you have done."
Avoid encouraging dependence on your praise. Psychologist Alyson Schafer warns that children can easily become dependent on winning your praise, instead feeling proud of themselves without praise. Encourage them to take their own healthy sense of pride from accomplishments, instead of simply working to please you.
Focus on the efforts of the individual, not just the results. Author Po Bronson cited a Columbia University study in his article "The Inverse Power of Praise," published in New York Magazine, which showed children praised for their hard work rather than for just completing the task were more likely to choose a harder task in the future.
Tips and warnings
- Focusing on the positive and being encouraging often works better when dealing with a spouse or child reluctant to do household chores than criticism.
- Regular praise, or praise for every accomplished task, quickly loses its value. Save praise for big accomplishments that an individual struggled with or worked hard to reach, and use encouraging phrases during the process.
- Do not combine praise with criticisms. If you need to criticise something, address it at a separate time.
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