Recognition is one of the most effective ways to reinforce positive behavior and energize people, explains Marsha Egan

Do you remember the last time someone gave you a “pat on the back”? Of course you do!

One of the reasons we remember these is that they don’t happen all that often, unfortunately. That is why when someone does take the time or remembers to acknowledge some action we have taken, it is memorable.

In addition to being memorable, most times it is motivating. Positive reinforcement is a motivator. If you think back to when you received that “pat on the back,” you’ll also remember that it energized you.

As you translate all this to a work, organizational, or family situation, it becomes easy to see how you can inject energy and positively motivate people. The more you recognize and appreciate people, the more influential you can be.

Top Tips for Giving Recognition

1. Be specific

Instead of saying, “You were great,” say, “I thought the way you explained that XYZ situation helped the group understand it better.”

We’ve all experienced the person who gives a general statement – “Your team did a great job!” What about the work was great? Why did they think the team did a great job? My guess is that the team will feel OK about this, but not have any concrete vision of what was intended. It then becomes a “nice to have” rather than motivational.

Consider the more specific praise statement, “Your team did a great job – you met the target 5 days before the due date, the presentation by Sally and John helped sell our customer on the product, and the fact that all of you worked overtime to make this happen is very greatly appreciated!” Now they know that the company values their overtime work, high-quality presentation, and timely results. They can picture what success was valued and can use it to energize themselves for future projects.

2. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge an individual’s performance

If one member of a task force shined, don’t be afraid to highlight that individual’s contribution, rather than generalizing. In the above example, Sally and John were singled out for recognition. This not only motivates Sally and John but also informs others in the group of the level of work that is expected and most likely will be complimented. It also lets others know they can be singled out when they perform above expectations.

3. Do it soon

The sooner you can “pat someone on the back” after the notable action, the better. Sooner is always better than later; catching someone in the act can be very motivating. However, just as my mother admonished me, “It is never too late to send a thank you note.” The same applies to pats on the back.

4. Sincerity is key

Any praise that you deliver must be sincere; otherwise, the message will not get through and you will lose credibility. If you praise someone hollowly or insincerely, they will detect it. It then loses its impact. People can feel sincerity just as much as they can feel insincerity.

5. Be creative

Pats on the back don’t have to be just pats on the back. You can find new and interesting ways to recognize the performance you want to see repeated. This can be fun!

6. Just do it!

One of the biggest challenges with giving people pats on the back is just remembering to do it. Just like the senior executive who ended his day, every day, by writing a note of appreciation to someone he encountered that day, sharing praise can be built into your routine. Your intentionality can motivate the outreach that can be so positive in your circle of friends, acquaintances and co-workers.

By appreciating and acknowledging people, you become the energizer. It is not hard. It does not take time. It is free. By turning your good intentions into action, you promote positivity.

So, what is holding you back from giving people a well-deserved pat on the back?

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Florida-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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