The Impact of a Compliment
Posted by Roy Saunderson on Thu, Oct 22, 2020 @ 05:06 PM

People have genuine anxiety about their abilities to give meaningful and effective compliments, which can translate into their ability to provide meaningful recognition. Their awkwardness transfers into an attitude of underestimating the effect their compliment will have on people. But what if there was science to support the impact a compliment (or recognition) has on the receiver?

Let’s explore evidence to the question and give suggestions for what you can do to give more compliments and better recognition.

Compliments and Scientific Evidence

Erica J. Boothby and Vanessa K. Bohns, from the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University respectively, researched Why a Simple Act of Kindness Is Not as Simple as It Seems—Underestimating the Positive Impact of Our Compliments on Others.

They conducted five studies to explore how givers of compliments perceived a recipient’s reaction to their compliment. It appears that the person who provided the appreciation underestimated how positively recipients felt after receiving it. Givers of the compliment thought the person that received it would feel less happy, pleased and flattered than they did. Yet, researchers also found the givers felt pretty good about themselves after complimenting someone. 

The recognition significance from this research is that because people underestimate the value their compliments have on others; they refrain from giving praise. The same principle likely applies to appreciating people for who they are and recognizing them for what they do. If a person doesn’t think that recognition is valuable in the recipient’s eyes, they likely won’t recognize deserving people around them.

Implications for Improving Recognition 

These different studies show that we have not done sufficient work to analyze and share recognition perceptions and program data to all employees, versus just to their managers. 

Find out how your employees feel about giving recognition.

First, ask all employees to participate in a survey to determine the positivity and perception they have when giving recognition to others, as well as of the recognition they receive. 

You could ask employees how happy and valued they thought a peer would feel after receiving genuine recognition using a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 = not at all, and 7 = very/very much). The results will help with employees’ perception of how their recognition giving is perceived by the recipients. The higher the score, the more likely employees will recognize one another. The lower the score, the less likely recognition will happen and the need for some education.

Similar to the research study, you should also ask employees how likely they would be to give genuine recognition to a peer for doing great work or helping others, again using a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 = not at all likely, 7 = very likely). You would use this score and link it with the perceived value of recognition to see the outcome. 

Share how valued recognition is to employees 

Secondly, ask employees if they’re willing to take part in a video interview to explain their value of recognition. Imagine asking each of the interviewed employees to describe how they feel after someone has recognized them.  How do they feel when they haven’t received recognition? Using these videos, other employees will be able to hear and see what the value of recognition has on others.

It is also important to teach employees from all levels, not just managers, how to give meaningful and effective recognition. That way they don’t feel awkward or anxious about what to say or how to provide recognition in the right way. 

Studies like the one referenced above help us see recognition in a different light. 

It has always been said that awareness is sixty percent of the solution. If we can make everyone in an organization more aware of the importance and value recognition has on others, we have automatically reduced the risk factors people feel on whether to recognize someone. Give them the education and training they need to give better recognition and you will have a winning combination of awareness and skills working hand in hand.


Topics: employee recognition

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