Tag Archives: Don Rickles

The Don Rickles School of Praise: When There’s Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week I wrote about the business case for being nice. I stand by the article and the cited research flaunting the benefits of leadership based in trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation; however, with the passing of legendary comedian Don Rickles, I’d like to honor his memory by providing a counter argument—the business case for not being so nice. More specifically, why we should be more discerning when doling out praise.

In today’s culture, leaders are encouraged to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and offer regular praise so as to encourage employees to believe in themselves. This “feel good” behavior creates a nice environment, but “nice” is not synonymous with “engaging,” “productive,” or “dynamic.” In fact, research shows that praise may actually undermine success.

I always rib people, but nobody ever gives me a hard time. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of what I might say. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.—Don Rickles

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are praised for ‘doing their own thing,’ they lose interest in the activity once the praise stops. Where they may have once felt satisfaction with the intrinsically rewarding enjoyment of performing the activity, the praise replaced the intrinsic reward with a contingent, external incentive, thus reducing the appeal of the intrinsic reward. As a result, expecting praise can soon make that thing seem not worth doing if you are not receiving the praise.

In another study published in Educational Leadership, people praised for personal attributes (being smart, talented, etc) were more easily discouraged with complex tasks and they stopped making an effort much sooner than those praised for ‘working hard’. Also, when praised for effort, participants overwhelmingly chose the more challenging task, while those praised for intelligence chose the easy test.

And according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University, unpraised individuals show higher levels of confidence, while the overpraised are more likely to lie or exaggerate to make their performance sound better. Praise becomes addictive; once they get it, they need it and cannot function without it.

They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.—Don Rickles

Before you are completely turned off from delivering praise (and decide to follow the Don Rickles’ style of ‘compliments’), the lesson here is not to withhold support or encouragement; what’s key is making sure the praise you deliver is accomplishing your intended purpose and being conveyed in the most impactful manner. A few ways you can maximize your praise include:

  • Be selective with praise. A compliment is more meaningful when it is kept sacred. If you do it all the time, it has less potency and creates an atmosphere of dependency. As David “Father of Advertising” Ogilvy says, it should be just uncommon enough to make each instance a momentous occasion.
  • Focus on what is within a person’s control. Don’t bother heaping compliments on characteristics that come natural; emphasis what they can consciously influence and control.
  • Avoid applause for easy tasks. A study found that people praised for an achievement that comes easily believe either 1) the praiser is not smart enough to realize how easy the task is or 2) the praiser thinks the prasiee is not smart.
  • Don’t over-praise for doing something they should be doing anyway. Recognize them for going above and beyond or finding a new way to complete a task, otherwise you are just reinforcing the minimum expectations of the job.
  • Deliver razor-sharp praise. Ambiguous, broad statements like, “You are great,” are worthless. Compliments should be specific and describe a detailed account of what they did well.

Don Rickles, derisively nicknamed Mr. Warmth, was always quick with an insult. He could disarm the most caustic audience with the most politically correctless jab. The greatest praise he offered was a verbal barb… and people begged Rickles to make fun of them. Of course, context matters so we should not try to emulate his form of tribute. Instead, use praise to build people up, but, at the same time, don’t rely on it as your primary form of communication. Keep it pointed, make it meaningful, and (I cannot stress this enough) don’t think “What would Rickles say.”

Weekender: Brian Grazer on Needless Worrying

Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a seat-ful of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a seat (versus the whole booth)? Because it’s the weekend!

Brian GrazerOn a leader’s ascent to power, many thoughts naturally creep into one’s mind. Some are beneficial and drive higher performance, others are more damaging. One damaging example is the overreliance on comparing yourself to others as a means of determining self-worth. Famed producer Brian Grazer explains.

In the early 1980s when Grazer was beginning to taste success, he was invited to the high-profile, highly exclusive Chasen’s Super Bowl party. Grazer had wanted to go since he began in show business. When he got there, he unexpectedly sat in a booth with comic royalty. Red Button, Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles were all sitting together laughing and telling stories. Watching this magical moment, Grazer said that he thought to himself,

At one time, these guys were fierce enemies or competitors or were quietly rooting against the other guy, which is what Hollywood is all about. But now, all these guys clearly wanted to do was just share some camaraderie, jokes, good laughs, and watch the game. This made me think that worrying about [having the] hottest career, worrying about competing about whether I’m hot enough or high enough on the list, all those things we care about, but to place too much importance on that is only going to be a ridiculous bummer for you, a complete buzz kill in your life, and when really all you want to do is have it add up to have some good friends, and some laughs, and some of the simpler things in life.

We can’t help but wonder where we stand in contrast to others. The problem is when the need to win overpowers our ego, when it becomes the sole way to measure success. Consider Grazer’s advice. Camaraderie will make your climb up the corporate ladder all the more fulfilling. Leadership can be lonely. Build your support system along the way so you don’t reach the pinnacle and find that you are all alone.