The Unqualified Compliment

Admit it — doesn’t it feel good to receive a word of encouragement? I’m thinking particularly of the workplace here. I don’t know about you but I derive quite a bit of personal satisfaction, not to mention a sense of job security (maybe too much, come to think of it) when I receive a compliment or an encouraging word from the boss. Conversely, when the boss never says anything encouraging, I find myself plagued with self-doubt. Am I not measuring up? Does he or she not like me anymore? Neurotic? Maybe…but I strongly suspect I’m not the only one. You know who you are!

Somewhere between the sound of silence from the boss and the pleasant and encouraging word of affirmation lies what I call the Qualified Compliment. I had a boss once who was the master of the Qualified Compliment — he simply couldn’t bring himself to say something encouraging without adding a stinger at the end. Examples:

  • “Nice month in January! Way to go! Of course, the rest of the quarter doesn’t look so hot…”
  • “Good work on the McDonald’s buy — nice piece of business! Why didn’t we get on Fred Meyer?”
  • “Looks like Bill is really coming around — you’re doing a good job with him! But Anne is really slipping…what’s going wrong there?”

Just once, I used to think, can’t you say something encouraging and then leave it there? I guess he feared I would get complacent…but actually his backhanded criticism sowed seeds of self-doubt. Not healthy.

Managers, here’s a thought: try giving one of your team members a compliment without qualification: an Unqualified Compliment! Then see what happens. I think you have some subordinates who will REALLY appreciate it!

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