Up Your Compliment Game

    I can live for two months on a good compliment.                                                                      ~Mark Twain

    I can live for two months on a good compliment.                                                                      ~Mark Twain

Workplace compliments can be powerful.  Academic research is rich with studies that confirm employee motivation and productivity can be correlated with honest, well-placed affirmations (Ariely, 2016; Rath & Clifton, 2004).  Whether given by peers, subordinates or superiors, an astute recognition of effort and accomplishment can improve self-image and productivity at work.

If workplace compliments can be powerful, it follows that they can either help or hurt morale.  For example  “But you are such a brilliant admin!” could be seen as condescending to someone working their way into management. Saying “That was such an amazing effort!” after a missed goal, in public might overemphasize a missed goal. The rest of this article assumes that you mostly escape these traps and that you are ready to up your compliment game.

2Human Strategies has devised a technique that we feel can be more effective and less prone to misinterpretation.  We call it The Public Salute.  A Public Salute takes place when a person in a position of authority (The Initiator) creates a space for a group (The Audience) to recognize and affirm the behavior of a group or individual (The Recipient).  A common example of this behavior occurs at wedding receptions. Someone, often a person close to the couple, sets the tone of the activity by telling a positive story about the newly married couple and then offering the microphone to other attendees to do the same. This behavior is more than just giving compliments; it is a Public Salute because the first person to give a toast often models positive, affirming behavior and then encourages others to do the same.

A Public Salute is not without its risks.  It can and usually does, lead to some mild social discomfort in the Recipient.  Initiating a Public Salute also opens up the recipient to affirmations from less skilled complimenters who have not escaped the traps outlined earlier.  This may necessitate some on-the-fly fixing from the Initiator. However, our own anecdotal experience shows these pitfalls to be rare.

Here are some hypothetical examples of a Public Salute in action:

1) Sal is being promoted to a position of leadership for the first time.  His boss wants him to feel confident in his new role so she initiates a Public Salute to conclude a meeting that announces Sal’s promotion.  After offering her own praise and well wishes, she could invite other employees to participate in the Public Salute  by suggesting prompts like:

-What do you admire about Sal?
-Which of Sal's traits will serve him well in his new position?
-Are there times when you remember Sal doing something particularly admirable?

The exact prompts are not as important as the way in which they are selected.  They are selected to elicit spontaneous positive feedback about Sal’s talents, traits, assets, or specific memorable moments.

2) Maria is leading a marketing campaign for a groundbreaking new product.  While this initial effort was marked by some successes and some failures, her confident leadership has shown the viability of this direction for her company.  Her efforts lost money but have paved the way for the long term success of the company.  To mark the occasion, her boss, the Initiator, could conclude a meeting with a Public Salute using the following prompts.  Note that she is careful to steer the group away from any criticism.

-What did Maria’s team do well?
-How have Maria’s accomplishments changed your own perspective about what is possible for the company?
-What can we all learn from Maria’s leadership style?
If Maria and Sal leave a Public Salute with newfound confidence and awareness of others’ regard for their talents, efforts, and accomplishments, then the Initiator has done well.

Not every accomplishment or success warrants a Public Salute.  Sometimes the Recipient has a high degree of social anxiety or the Audience cannot be trusted to give constructive affirmations.  In these situations, a less public method may be warranted.  At 2Human however, we believe that the Public Salute offers a unique opportunity to increase workplace morale and invigorate your employees’ sense of self-worth.  We encourage you to give it a try.

If you have tried a Public Salute with your team, we invite you to send us your feedback to Ben@2humanstrategies.com


Ariely, D (2016) Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. New York, Simon & Schuster

Dahl, M. (2016, August 12). Just say ‘Thank You’ to the people you work with. Science of Us. [periodical blog] New York Magazine.

Dahl, M. (2016, August 29). How to motivate employees: Give them compliments and pizza. Science of Us [periodical blog] New York Magazine.

Rath, T. & Clifton, D. (2004, July 8). The power of praise and recognition. [online periodical] Gallup Business Journal.


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