Why is the right kind of praise so important?
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Developmental Psychologist and Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck. Her research indicates that too much praise can make your child fear failure or not work hard enough, and she suggests it’s better to praise effort such as “hard work” or “strategy” and not genetic attributes like intelligence.
Dweck has closely looked at the impact of praise, specifically the type of praise that learners receive. Her research has shown that praise linked to reassuring learners about their intelligence or talent is detrimental to their view about their abilities. It reinforces (fixed mindset) ideas that their achievements are a consequence of IQ or other finite innate ability. In Dweck’s work it led to students worrying that future tests might reveal their shortcomings, and that challenges were to be avoided as, again, struggling demonstrated that they weren’t really as smart as their teachers had believed. Dweck’s research has demonstrated the importance of praise that recognizes effort. Praise that acknowledges process related activities such as practice, study, persistence and good strategies are proven to instill and develop a growth mindset in learners.
Dweck believes the best managers are those with a growth mindset — those who believe in their ability to change and a conviction that learning it the way forward.
Organizations can have fixed mindsets, too — and in the war for talent, those that do are losing out on great people, said Huysse. As Dweck pointed out, trusting in the value of hard work and effort is not just a stronger predictor of success, but a much more powerful motivator.
“A fixed mindset doesn’t tell you what to do next,” said Dweck. “It provides no recipe for recovering from failures,” which makes it tough to take on new challenges where stumbling is possible or even likely.
At the core of a growth mindset on talent is neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to reorganize itself with learning. It requires not just working at what you know, but pushing past into areas that stretch your knowledge and skills. A favorite quote of Dweck’s: “Anyone who’s never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Mindsets are transmitted in an organization through a shared understanding of what’s valued: being right or being open to learning. “We are very tuned in to messages about what will make people like and admire us. We’re wired to pick this up,” said Dweck. Praise for intelligence instead of praise for effort sends the wrong message. People who are praised for being smart “don’t want to risk their newly minted genius status,” and that fosters static, rigid organizations. Praise for effort keeps people engaged and willing to work hard.
- Instead of “person praise” (e.g., “You are creative”), offer “process praise”:
- Praise the strategy (e.g., “You found a really good way to do it.”)
- Praise with specificity (e.g., “You seem to really understand fractions.”)
- Praise effort (e.g., “I can tell you’ve been practicing.”)
- Keep it real: Don’t say, “Good job!” when it’s not.
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