Praise is based on another’s performance and our approval of their performance. When we praise a child or an employee, we are expressing our approval of their performance which after time may override their own potential to self-evaluate and often creates a dependence on others for validation and praise on future tasks or projects.
Praise is about perfection or doing it right; encouragement is about learning and growing from the experience. Praised is “being good at” whereas encouragement is based on improvement after evidence of diligence or hard work.
Examples of praise: “Wow…great work,” “You’re so smart, you got an A,” “You have outshined everyone on the team. Way to be an example,” “You hit two home runs, you’re the best.”
Examples of encouragement: “Wow…it’s evident how diligent you worked in the yard to clean up all those leaves. Thank you, I feel grateful,” “You have been studying so hard the past two weeks. How does it feel to work hard and see that you’ve earned an A?” “I see your commitment to the team; you have worked hard and as a result the whole department is feeling more inspired,” “You have been committed to practice and have really valued your coach’s instructions. I wonder how it feels for you to hit two home runs in your game today?”
The research shows that when some kids are consistently praised they choose easier tasks and take less risks because they want to stay with the tasks they are good at, so they remain safely in “praise worthy” status; they do not want to risk failing or missing out on the praise.
Not being willing to take risks and fail some of the time is devastating to our growth and innovation. The research of many scholars including Angela Duckworth shows that genius is the result of hard work and perseverance. It is a limited perspective to view genius as an IQ score. When more of humanity is dependent on praise, more are afraid to risk failure, they stay safe by staying with project they are “good at” to remain in praise worthy status and never risk tapping into the genius that lays dormant inside.
Encouragement invites a person to self-evaluate or self-reflect on her part of the task or process. Their results become a range of experiences that continuously ebbs and flows, unlike the results of praise where perfection is the goal. Encouragement teaches self-reliance and self-confidence, it teaches that mistakes are a normal part of the growing process. Encouragement is focused on effort, improvement, and meaning derived from accomplishing a difficult project.