Praise, Not Perfect: Stop Criticising, Start Encouraging

When I first got my dog, I read a lot of books on effective dog training. They all said the same thing: Praise the behaviour you want, and pay no attention to the behaviour you don’t want. A wise friend gave me the same advice with people: “Praise, not perfect.”

It’s interesting that when it comes to how we treat other people, we often do the exact opposite. We criticise behaviour that we dislike in an attempt to perfect the other person. But we forget to praise the things they are already doing well.

How do we learn to praise, not perfect?

1. Bite your tongue

I have a friend who said that she saved her marriage just by learning to bite her tongue. Every time she felt like criticising her husband, she literally chomped down on her tongue. So she would say something that sounded like “Ernh”. She probably ended up with a sore tongue, which is better than a painful divorce.

Once said, words are forever. Even if we apologise, we cannot remove them from the other person’s memory. Left unsaid, there is still time to make the point later, when we are calmer and can phrase our thoughts more kindly.

2. Edit criticisms

I used to say a lot of hurtful things to others. I’d vent my feelings to get things off my chest, without thinking about the impact on the other person. Eventually I learned to write it down before blurting it out. I could see how awful the words looked on paper, and had time to edit my little speech. The results were obviously much better.

3. Write it in a safe place

Often after writing what I wanted to say to another person in my journal, I didn’t feel the need to actually say it any more. The mere act of writing what I needed to say was therapeutic. I no longer needed the healing that we usually seek in confronting the other person in an effort to resolve the issue.

Writing your feelings in a journal also allows you to re-visit it days or weeks later, to see if the underlying issue is valid. Usually we realise in hindsight that the things that bother us are the little things. Over time we’ll learn to get over it instead of trying to perfect other people.

4. Praise, praise, praise

Everyone is starving for praise. You can almost never praise someone too much. In fact, people with low self-esteem need to hear the same encouraging words many times before they actually believe it. Once a person feels good because a certain behaviour of hers is praised, you can be sure that she will behave that way more often.

Praise the specific behaviour you want to encourage. Instead of saying just “Thank you”, say “Thank you for picking up the parcel for me. It gave me some time to call my mum, and that made her really happy.” If you can make it a habit to acknowledge and praise in this way, people will fall over themselves to do you favours!

5. Raise your self-esteem

If you have a healthy self-esteem, you will have no problems giving and accepting praise. Insecure people have more problems with accepting praise. They often deflect it or play it down because they don’t feel they really deserve it. And they find it practically impossible to praise others because you cannot give what you do not have.

An easy way to build up self-esteem is to learn to accept praise. Say “thank you” the next time you are praised, and nothing else. There is no need to explain that it wasn’t really a big deal. Just “Thank you!” with a big smile. This makes the other person feel good about praising you too. When you have collected enough praise in your heart, you’ll naturally go out there and praise others.

Praise, not perfect

What a simple, wonderful motto to live by!

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