According to Science, This One Action Can Make You a Better Spouse, Boss or Employee

All of us crave it. So why are we so bad at dishing it out?

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We all enjoy it when someone gives us sincere praise or commendation. It motivates us, encourages us, makes us feel good. When it comes to work, science tells us that an expression of commendation is more effective than even monetary rewards in many situations.

For example, research organization Gallup surveyed more than four million employees and found that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise:

  • increase their individual productivity
  • increase engagement among their colleagues
  • are more likely to stay with their organization
  • receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers
  • have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job

Researchers have also highlighted the benefits of showing appreciation to our spouses and children.

But here’s the question: If we know how effective praise can be, why don’t we do it more often?

Don’t take others for granted.

It’s easy to begin taking for granted the things we previously appreciated.

For example, a team leader may be impressed with a new employee’s work ethic and propensity to go above and beyond. Over time, though, the boss stops giving commendation. Why? Because this type of effort becomes the new normal.ADVERTISING

“Why should I praise someone for doing something they should be doing?” a mid-level manager for one Fortune 500 company once asked me.

How about, so they don’t stop doing it?

Or even worse, so you don’t lose them to someone who shows more appreciation.

This principle applies in all areas of life–whether at work, in the family, or in other relationships. But how can we cultivate a more appreciative spirit? And how should we make our commendation count?

Look for the good.

There’s an old saying: Familiarity breeds contempt.

Unfortunately, that adage may prove true if we’re not careful. Over time, we tend to become overly critical of those we are closest to. I’m not talking about constructive criticism, which is necessary for growth. Rather, it’s the penchant we have to start concentrating on what a person is missing, rather than on what he or she brings to the table.

Instead, why not first focus on what a person is doing right? You might start making a list of traits you appreciate in your spouse, child, or colleague–or positive actions those people have taken that benefit your family or team.

At times, that also means looking for potential. If you see something that others don’t even see in themselves, you help to create self-fulfilling prophecies.

They’ll get better–because you believe they can.

Don’t just feel it. Say it.

Once you cultivate an attitude of appreciation, you need to communicate it:

Clearly. Specifically. Sincerely.

Be clear by telling them directly how you feel. Don’t leave it up to chance.

Be specific by not only saying that you appreciate them, but also telling them what you appreciate, and why.

Be sincere by speaking up quickly. See something good, praise right away–to encourage more of that good behavior.

How might this look in real life? Here’s an example:

Hi, can we talk? I know I don’t say this enough, but I really appreciate you and everything you do around here. The way you [tell them the what, where, and why–the more specific the better]. It makes our [home/workplace] a better place. I’m really thankful to have you.

Obviously, you have to keep it real. Make it your own, adapt to your circumstances, be sincere. And don’t view commendation as a task to be marked off your checklist; instead, try to cultivate a mindset of appreciating others–from your family members, to your colleagues, to your office housekeeper.

So, what are you waiting for? Go tell someone how much you value them.

Because Joni Mitchell got it right:

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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