In Praise of… Praise!

Last updated: August 29, 2021
Estimated reading time: 3.5 min


For busy managers, praise is often one of the first things to fall off the priority list. We totally get it—there’s always something that needs your attention, and taking the time to give specific and sincere praise doesn’t usually feel like a Big Rock. And, like our relationships to feedback more broadly, how we feel about giving (and receiving!) praise is often connected to our upbringings, our work experiences and norms, and our overall communication styles.

Still, we’re here to tell you that it isn’t just a nice-to-have. Praise is an important tool that can help managers develop and maintain staff, build relationships, foster belonging, and sharpen their communication skills.

In our introduction of CSAW (Connect, Share, Ask, and Wrap up), our framework for giving feedback, we shared examples of how to use the tool for different types of feedback. While offering praise doesn’t always have to be a full conversation (sometimes just using the “S” in CSAW will suffice!), using CSAW for praise can be a simple way to learn from what’s working so that you can continue to do great work. Let’s take a closer look at how CSAW can work with praise:

Step Key Points Example
Connect to get buy-in Connect over a shared value, goal, or experience.

Be explicit that you have praise to share.

I know how important it is to both of us that this pilot is a success and I see how hard you’ve been working on it.

Can I share some specific things I’ve appreciated about your approach?

Share your observations, the impact, and any requests. Focus on the things that are in their control (behavior, not character!).

Connect their action to its impact on you, the team, and/or the work.

You’ve done a great job wrangling a bunch of stakeholders, getting them bought in, and moving forward without missing deadlines. I’m thinking specifically about the way you handled the timeline disagreement by identifying a collaborative win-win approach.

Because you’ve done such a great job representing us and building relationships with our coalition partners, they seem much more eager to work with us than they have in the past. Also, since I haven’t had to be as hands-on as I expected, I’ve been able to focus more on fundraising.

Please, keep bringing this level of coalition leadership!

Ask questions Invite their self-reflection and probe their successes to identify the key conditions or actions that helped them exceed expectations.

Give them the opportunity to ask for help or support.

What made you approach it that way? What has been most helpful to you in getting this work done? What are you particularly proud of? What would you say are the top 1-2 things you did to make this a success?

Is there anything I could be doing to better support you?

Wrap up Celebrate the success! Keep up the great work!

As with all feedback, it’s more important that managers give praise regularly and thoughtfully than that it follows a format or structure every time. Use CSAW as a framework, but don’t make it a production. The more you systematize it, the more natural it will become.

For managers who can’t seem to find time for it, try any of these:

  • Give praise once a month during your check-in
  • Set up a biweekly 15-minute block on your calendar to think about the acknowledgment and/or praise you want to share
  • Shoot off a praise email once a week.

If giving praise doesn’t come naturally and you’re worried about coming across as insincere, you can do one of two things:

  1. Focus on being brief, specific, and factual (“you moved everyone along while making sure everyone got to weigh in”).
  2. Share the personal impact that they had on you (“the needs statement in your last grant proposal made me feel even more inspired by our work” or “when you facilitated the last team meeting, I felt fully engaged.”

You can also start by using the mode of communication that comes most naturally, whether that’s in writing or verbally. The point of giving praise is to make sure your staff (and colleagues) feel valued for their work and contributions to your team.


Check out our other resources about feedback:

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