Lower Your Standards of Praise

“Perfectionist”
pəˈfɛkʃ(ə)nɪst
noun
1.  a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection, e.g. “he was a perfectionist who worked slowly”
adjective
2.  refusing to accept any standard short of perfection

I am a perfectionist. I mean, I’m not obsessive. The volume on the radio can be odd or even – that doesn’t matter. I do, however, like things to be right, and if I think someone won’t do a very good job, I’d rather just do things myself. I’m the kind of person that will ask their other half to make the bed; and then if the cushions aren’t in the right order, I’ll re-make it.

I’m also practically minded; and I know to be an effective team member, and – more importantly – to be a good leader, I need to overcome my perfectionist tendencies, because in reality not everyone I work with or lead will be able to reach the high standards that I set for myself. Trying to impose my own high standards on the people working with me is likely to frustrate them, and frustrate me. That won’t get us anywhere fast – we’ll be heading downhill in a spiral of “not-quite-right” annoyance. Alternatively, I’ll end up doing it myself, and that’s not an effective use of my time.

NotQuiteWhatIHadInMind

I struggled with the concept of letting people ‘get on with it’ a lot, until someone on a training course recently summed this up in one short phrase: “lower your standards of praise”.

Lowering your standards of praise means, instead of only giving people positive feedback when they get things exactly right, you lower the standard of achievement that merits reward to encourage the behavior you want, and then you can work on improving things gradually over time.

Think about when parents bring up children, and they try to teach their toddlers to talk. Of course, if someone wants to ask for a glass of water in adult life, we’d expect to hear “can I have a glass of water, please?”, but a two-year-old isn’t going to go from “mama” and “dada” to asking coherently for a glass of water overnight. Instead, parents start with the basics: “Water”. They’ll repeat the word, and encourage speech, until they get something that closely resembles the result: “Wa-wa”. Close enough! This behavior will be rewarded: the toddler will get the glass of water, and probably plenty of applause and kisses; but they can’t grow up using “wa-wa” every time they’re thirsty, so the development continues, and parents work on changing “wa-wa” to “water”; “water” to “water, please”, and so on.

A blog post on AJATT speaks about lowering our standards in every day life, and learning to appreciate the ‘baby steps’ we take to get to places in life, and then putting that into practice with our more long-term goals. It talks about how you shouldn’t ‘try to arrive at your goal. Just try to go there — and congratulate yourself for it: give yourself credit for only getting it partially right, partially done’. When you appreciate the little achievements, the bigger picture will fall into place.

Ken Blanchard, in his best-selling book, The One Minute Manager, talks about how the manager relies on catching people doing things right – which involves praising people immediately (and not waiting until they’ve achieved the whole); being specific about what they’ve done right – emphasizing how what they did right makes you feel, and how it benefits the organization; and encouraging more of the same.

By lowering your standards of praise, you’re not waiting for people to get all the way to the end of a project, only to be disappointed in the end-result. Instead, you can give positive feedback when they get things partially right, and slowly work your way to the desirable outcome, whilst keeping your relationship frustration-free. It doesn’t mean your end-result is going to be less-than-perfect, but it means that you’re not expecting perfection in the first instance.

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