Tag Archives: Intelligent

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.”

Dory on Improving Your Memory

dory bannerLast week, I had the good fortune of attending a company’s midyear recognition ceremony. It was your typical workplace event until the CEO took the stage to deliver the awards. What could have been a dry narration was instead an exercise in leadership.

This CEO presented ten awards to ten individuals and had personal stories about each. At first I though he had a script, but then an audience member interjected a humorous heckle. The CEO used that interruption to dive into the long history of that particular winner’s project, mention each member of her team (including those no longer with the company), and address how her accomplishments have impacted each department.

When I asked the CEO about it the next day, he was surprised that I was so surprised. He stated, in his overly humble opinion, “I guess I have a good memory. What am I going to do, walk around like Dory?”

“Dory?” I asked.

“You know, the amnesiac blue tang fish from Finding Nemo.”

Albeit an unexpected reference, he had a point. A leader’s effectiveness is dramatically enhanced with a good memory. Those with better memories are seen as more intelligent, knowledgeable, and competent. This enriches the leader’s ability to problem solve as they can more readily learn new information, recall it when needed, and apply it in creative ways.

Feel like you could use a memory boost? Here are three learning strategies that are proven to work:

Forget about your learning style

A popular and often repeated idea is that we remember information best when it’s taught through our preferred learning style—visual, auditory, verbal, physical. The facts, however, show this is misguided. Research from the Journal of Educational Psychology found that we do not perform better when taught via our selected modality. And Psychological Science in the Public Interest concluded, “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”

Learning includes a mix of the different learning styles. Its effectiveness is more dependent on the topic and environment than on an individual’s stated preference. So don’t rely on one technique. Mix it up.

Embrace your inner artist

Want a nifty way to improve your memory? A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that drawing may be the key. Researchers flashed a random series of simple words (balloon, fork, kite, etc) to participants who were instructed to draw the object, write down its name, or list its descriptive characteristics. They then had to recall as many words as they could. Consistently, drawing the object outperformed every other option, often resulting in remembering more than twice as many words.

Drawing requires a deeper LoP, or level of processing, that encourages “a seamless integration of semantic, visual and motor aspects of a memory trace.” So if you want better recall, get your marker set and start doodling.

Rely on connections

To remember something new, it helps if you can connect it with something you already understand. According to the book Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning,

The more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to prior knowledge, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be, and the more connections you create that will help you remember it later.

The idea is that you are elaborating, not learning from scratch. To utilize this technique, apply real-life examples to the new concepts and, as you learn, continue to build on the story.

Don’t be a Dory. Her short-term recall may be funny, but she’s a fish. Your memory is a valuable leadership tool. Whether it’s recalling key figures during a negotiation, quoting pertinent articles when making a decision, or impressing the team when reminiscing about their past achievements, your ability to remember makes you a better leader. Continue to develop it and, as Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.”