10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "Solution-focused coaches always should give many compliments".
Solution-focused practitioners do use compliments
It is well known that solution-focused practitioners frequently use compliments in conversations with clients but they don't just compliment about everything. Compliments have a specific function. They are pointers to solutions. Any compliments solution-focused coaches make are focused on behaviors which seem to be related to progress in the direction of the desired situation. Skillful compliments strengthen the sense of competence and autonomy of clients as well the relationship between coaches and clients.
There is such a thing as overcomplimenting
Solution-focused pioneer Steve de Shazer once said: "What I see sometimes is the amateurs, so to speak - the beginners, who somehow think more is better and therefore, they give this endless stream of compliments and bore the client silly with them and therefore the client stops taking them seriously. That's one thing I see happen with beginners, in particular. There's just too damn many compliments, and that will drive the client away." Is there indeed such a thing as too many compliments? There is. Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards (Kohn, 1993), sums up ways in which praising people can be detrimental to people's performance (This fragment is taken from this article).
One example of damage cause by compliments can occur when you compliment someone for having accomplished a simple task. This can give this person the feeling that little is expected of him or her ("apparently this is all that is expected of me...."). As a second example Kohn explains how complimenting can lead to less persistence and concentration. He speaks of praise paralysis with which he means that telling someone how good he is can lead to stress and performance anxiety. A next example of the negative effects of praise is that it can make the praised person risk aversive. The last example Kohn mentions is that compliments of undermines the intrinsic motivation which inspires people do their best.
A special situation in which compliments can do harm is described by Geoffrey Cohen and Claude Steele (2002). These American researchers describe how teachers teaching students from minority groups sometimes overpraise these students. Teachers who fear there are viewed as prejudiced may respond by avoiding to give any critical feedback and only giving praise, even when the performance of the student is low. This response undermines student learning because they miss important critical feedback (which they could have used to their advantage) and the praise for low performance may send the message that little more is expected from that particular student. Further, overpraise may be viewed as patronizing and even insulting.
A shift from direct person compliments to indirect process compliments
The last few years I have been arguing for a shift going on from using direct person-focused ("you are such a smart person") compliments to indirect process-focused compliments ("how did you manage to accomplish that difficult task?"). Here is why. First, instead of complimenting directly (for example: “Well done!") you can also compliment indirectly. This means that you invite the other through a question to describe what was good about what he or she has done and what has worked well. An advantage of complimenting through questions is that you activate the other person. Also, there is less chance that he or she will feel embarrassed or will turn down the compliment ("It was nothing special"). Instead you challenge the other person and make him or her reflect (“Actually, how did I do that.... let's see.....?”). Second, instead of aiming your compliments at the person or at some trait of the person you may aim it at something the person has done which has worked. Research by Carol Dweck and her colleagues has shown that process compliments are more effective than trait compliments. This video illustrates the shift I am arguing for.