How to use Praise, Blame and Appreciation!

“To belittle is to be little!” (unknown)

A Wing Chun practice on a hot evening at the end of spring: we were already well warmed up and our martial arts instructor told us to make pairs to begin a drill of punching, carefully chosen to practice a special sequence of repetitions (see about it in Pushing hands). Repetitions are the ones that bring ingrained knowledge to the surface at the right time. You start to respond in a subconscious way. When attacked we mostly don’t have time to think what to do. Therefore, our body should react suitably.

Every few minutes we changed partners. This improves the techniques as each of us is somehow different – smaller, harder, heavier, quicker. Meanwhile the instructor usually practiced with a guy who had no partner or he thought that needs an extra practice with him.

It was my turn at the time. We began exchanging of punches with a moderate speed to be told later by the instructor to quicken it and some other sequences were added. I pushed a bit harder knowing that instructor is much better than we are and can withstand faster, more dynamic, mixed type of punches. Then, in a heat of practice when sweat was running from both, I hit him with a very precise punch but still under control. With a high pitch voice the instructor stopped the practice. I thought he will explain and praise me. Being a teacher myself and also a father I’m always proud if my students or kids surpass me.

No, that was not about the praise!

BlameHe started to shout at me! Pretty angry he said that I should control my punches as he controls them, otherwise he would injure or even kill with a punch. He might as well demonstrate it if it is what we want …

Others, me particularly, were unpleasantly surprised and in sort of stupefied. Nobody was able to understand his anger and behaviour. Is this not a martial art’s environment where hits and small injuries are part of training? Nobody was actually hurt. No blood was spilled … just some small red mark on his cheek demonstrated what happened few seconds before.

What went wrong?

Years later I replayed the same situation to demonstrate to my students what praise, blame and appreciation can/will do.

There were not only one but several issues that went wrong after my accidental punch. Let me describe them.

If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. Criticism is futile because it puts a man on a defensive and usually makes a person strive to justify himself. That is exactly what I felt too, to defend myself. Although I haven’t said anything at the time, it was my last practice with him.

The instructor might have used the opposite approach and talk about his own mistake before criticizing me. He could have admitted that he was just too slow for the punch. He could have given an honest appreciation of my ability and then explained to me to still execute more control next time. Or he could have asked me first what did I think went wrong. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe already knew this: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

Going even further into the topic of blame or appraisal we should take into account that when dealing with people in such situations we are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotions!

Radiating positive energy and appreciation to others you will find it coming back to you. If you start to appreciate what other people do, they will do their best to repeat it! Why? Because we all desire (need) recognition and acknowledgement for what we do. Studies all around the globe demonstrate that employees are more motivated with praise and appreciation than promotion or bonus.

Nevertheless, as with all things, we should be cautious with praise as well as in all things there is always the other side of a coin.

Praise implies and reinforces the concept that when you are not a ‘winner’ you are a ‘loser’. This is frequently demonstrated with the ‘person of the week’ or ‘seller of the month’ concepts. The fundamental reason praise may be destructive is that it is out of alignment with reality. And the reality is in a fact that, to be a ‘seller of the month’, there were others that helped to succeeding it as nobody works in “an empty space”.

Praise‘Blame-all and Praise-all are two blockheads’ by Benjamin Franklin. Praise and its ugly twin – blame, like reward and punishment, are very manipulative and coercive in personal relationships. Praise needs to be genuine and should be given with sincerity. As for blame, better to stop using it and rather encourage or appreciate people’s contribution when trying something new, something different or risky. A word of encouragement, especially during a failure, is worth more than an hour of praise after success.

When in a dilemma of what to do rather ask than praise, blame or appreciate. Ask yourself: Is it going to make the other person better? Why do you need to prove to a man that he is wrong? Why not let him save a face?

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