Compliments of SweetCapture via Flickr

Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise. (Dale Carnegie).

Of all the types of emotional abuse (blackmail, aggression, shaming, and chronic invalidation) failure to praise is perhaps the most prevalent at work. Absence of positive reinforcement can result for the following reasons:

  • Managers are busy, overworked due to wider spans of control, layoffs, globalization, and rapidly changing technology. Dispensing warm fuzzies is probably not high on their list. This effect occurs when companies ignore their priority – that of developing their human capital. 
  • They feel uncomfortable giving compliments. This is a most unfortunate modus operandi, particularly when praise is the lubricant between hierarchal levels. Sterile interaction serves no other purpose than to alienate your coworkers (on the rare occurrences when there’s two way communication). The Myers-Briggs taxonomy of ISTJ (which characterizes a predominance of managers) is most likely to behave in this fashion.
    ISTJs dislike employee emotions, or individual “messies” that do not neatly fit into a procedural box:  “ISTJs are not known for their patience in dealing with others’ problems, especially when a conflict appears to have irresponsibility, impracticality and disloyalty at its base” (Isachsen & Berens, 1988). If cornered they feign concern over employee’s well-being not because they truly care, but so the subordinate can refocus on their work. 
  • A desire to showcase their power. Withholding praise is an intentional form of abuse, as in fastidious parents who are never pleased. These individuals feel strong and important when they down someone else, a feeling that’s exacerbated when power mongers have an audience. Their lack of praise stems from a personal void, and is simply a displacement of their own perceived failings. Of all the above mentioned motivations for neglect, this is perhaps the most pitiful. In this vein the Emotional abuse website lists some basic human needs:   

*Emotional support.

*To be heard by the other and to be responded to with respect and acceptance.

*To receive a sincere apology for any jokes or actions you find offensive.

*Clear, honest and informative answers to questions about what affects you.

*Freedom from accusation, interrogation and blame.

*To live free from criticism and judgment.

*To have your work and your interests respected.


*To be respectfully asked rather than ordered.     

  • Lack of social skills. Praising is simply a professional courtesy. Compliments however don’t come easily to the socially awkward, who are skilled in making others feel uncomfortable. An antidote for interactional ineptitude is one of my favorite touchstones: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s been in print since 1936. This book contains some time tested techniques for garnering favor, and for appearing helpful to your peers. For every manager I think it is a must read. 
  • Underdeveloped charisma. One of the biggest compliments you can pay someone else is the focus of your attention. President Bill Clinton was a master in this arena; he had an uncanny knack of making conversational recipients feel special. Charisma is the flipside of condescension; the former is a siren, while the latter repels. Workers are drawn to individuals at their service.
  • Ignorance of what creates corporate value. Green Mountain Growers is a great example of creating a quality product, while at the same time honoring employees. The Great Place to Work Trust Index shows their results of employees surveys.

In a world in which loyalty is waning and discontent is on the rise, their results are nothing short of phenomenol.


A police officer isues tickets – and remains silent the rest of the time. Pay coworkers the professional courtesy of a well deserved compliment. You may feel uncomfortable giving kudos, but is the feeling reciprocal on the receiving end? Don’t appear small to those who depend on you for suppport.

In the absence of pay raise, praise is the new compensation.



Isachsen, O., & Berens, L. V.  (1988).  Working Together:  A personality centered approach to management (p. 201.  Coronado, CA:  Neworld Management Press.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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