January 16, 2008

Practical suggestions about praise

In 1993, Alfie Kohn wrote an important book called Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. In this book he shows that using rewards to get people to do things is often ineffective and even damaging. One chapter is completely dedicated to what Kohn calls "The praise problem". He describes four ways in which praise can be damaging to performance:
  1. Praising a person for succeeding at simple tasks can lead to 'low expectations' and decreased peristence and performance intensity.
  2. Praise-induced paralysis: telling somone how good he or she is can increase pressure and fear to live up to the compliment
  3. Praise can lead to less persistence and avoidence of risk taking
  4. Praise often undermines intrinsic motivation that leads people to do their best.
Kohn offers four practical suggestions to limit possible damaging effects of praise:
  1. Don't praise people, only, what they do
  2. Make praise as specific as possible
  3. Avoid phoney praise
  4. Avoid praise that sets up competition


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