"Why did they do that!??"
"What a terrible day."
It's easy to let bad news or bad results bother you. Some low quality work from a team member, or a bad outcome can ruin your whole day, if you let it.
But there's a better way. A way that will motivate your team, brighten your day, and show you how to be more positive at work.
Positivity is a choice.
You know the person. They can find a storm cloud in any silver lining. There's always something negative to point out, even in things they like:
"It's beautiful outside, but I forgot my sunglasses..."
"That was a great presentation, but did you see that typo on slide 13?"
"We crushed the number for the quarter, but now I have more work to do!"
As we've written before, a positive outlook can have a big difference on how you view the world, and how your team feels working with you.
However, even if you want to be more positive, it's not easy. You can't just flip a switch and suddenly you're wearing rose colored glasses.
Instead, you have to build new habits.
New habits = new way of being
Changing your mindset is hard. When you've built habits where you can sometimes become negative, they're like grooves in a record; your brain is used to playing the same tune again and again:
That's why instead you need to look at new habits to create that can help you be more positive. Eventually, they'll either replace or far outweigh any negative tendencies you have that are counterproductive.
Today, we share dozens of ways you can give more praise to your team and show you how to be more positive at work. Follow the links to further reading to dig into any that resonate with you most.
21 Ways How to be more Positive at Work through Praise and New Habits.
The power of compounding effort should not be underestimated. A few small changes or new habits can tip the balance in your favor from being a little too negative, to a positive person.
And it will pay off in big ways. In a study discussed in the Harvard Business Review, they found teams that had a 5:1 praise to criticism ratio significantly outperformed more negative teams:
That number can feel like a lot, which is why today we're going over a variety of ways you can strive for that kind of positive ratio.
1) Write down 3 things you're grateful for each day.
Research has shown this is one of the easiest ways to make yourself happy.
Psychology researchers Martin E. P. Seligman and Tracy A. Steen at the University of Pennsylvania, Nansook Park at the University of Rhode Island, and Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan looked at a variety of ways to potentially boost happiness.
One method stood out above the others as it boosted happiness, a week, a month, and even as much as 6 months later:
- "Three good things in life - Participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week."
While the original purpose can apply to all parts of your life, you can also occasionally angle the grateful things to work things like:
- Who on your team are you most grateful for their efforts?
- What are you most grateful for about your job?
- How does your boss or peers give you something to be grateful for?
And when you identify those work things, tell that person! You may just make their day, and you make them more likely to do more of that thing you like now that they know how you feel about it.
2) Use morning pages to write down your thoughts and feelings.
Keeping thoughts locked up in your head is a recipe for anxiety, stress, and unhappiness. Morning pages is a great way to get them out in a safe, productive way. As Julia Cameron describes them:
"They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.
Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
If you feel like too much negativity is building up in you, rather than complaining at the proverbial office water cooler, consider writing morning pages.
Learning how to be more positive starts with managing your mindset. I'm always amazed how much better I feel after I write it down. It's much easier to focus on the positive for the day after I get any negative thoughts or conflicted feelings out of my system.
Learn more approaches for creating a positive outlook here.
3) Use emojis in your chats.
When you send messages in chat, all the unspoken ways you communicate are lost; there's no body language or tone in your voice. Common numbers estimate that means 93% of communication is lost:
This makes it easy for things to be misconstrued: Was this urgent? Are you mad? Was that sarcasm?
A little emoji can go a long way to let them know if you're serious or not. I'm always amazed how much a Party Parrot can lighten up a simple conversation with a team member.
And obviously then if something is serious, the absence of an emoji can help them know you mean business.
4) Reply with Gifs and Emojis on their comments
What you do in response to your team's comments in chat can be as important as how you write yours.
By using appropriate gifs or an emoji you help your team understand: Did you see what they did? Did you read their comment? A simple "thumbs up", "party parrot", or "rocket" can let them know you saw it.
And when you're really excited, proud, or happy, an animated gif can share how you're feeling when there's no video or face to face interaction to show it. It's one of many great ways to better connect with your remote employees.
5) Deliberately praise good ideas in your meetings
In meetings you'll often be sharing ideas and comments all around. While it's important to never feel like who said an idea matters in the end result, recognizing the moment someone contributes is powerful.
This nuance is important. Working with Steve Jobs, ego-less meetings were called "Cauldrons":
"There might be 3 or 4 or even 10 of us in the room, looking at, say, an iteration of iPhoto. Ideas would come forth, suggestions, observations, whatever. We would "throw them into the cauldron", and stir it, and soon nobody remembered exactly whose ideas were which.
This let us make a great soup, a great potion, without worrying about who had what idea. This was critically important, in retrospect, to decouple the CEO from the ideas. If an idea was good, we'd all eventually agree on it, and if it was bad, it just kind of sank to the bottom of the pot. We didn't really remember whose ideas were which -- it just didn't matter."
When you close the meeting it should not matter who suggested what. No one is keeping score. All that matters is the team is moving together on next steps and a shared vision going forward.
However, in those small moments in the meeting where someone shares a critical insight, or a great suggestion, praise them.
If you're a respected (or feared) leader, it can be easy for your team to feel intimidated by you and want to go with your ideas. Encourage others by recognizing a good idea ("Good suggestion, Susan", "I like that, Tom. How can we build on that?") heading into the cauldron. It's a great way to praise a bit more, build up the confidence of others, and signal to your team you value their input.
6) Share the credit when something good happens
One of the common traits of good leaders is how they share credit with their team: The striker that scores the winning goal credits the hard work of the midfield to get him the ball, the quarterback thanks his offensive line, etc.
Wins for your team are just as hard fought as they are for sports teams. And what else is your team there for if not to support the reaching of goals for you and the business?
Next time your team has a big win, consider how you can credit the people on your team that stepped up most. This is guaranteed to encourage those going the extra mile to continue to so.
Try asking yourself some of these questions:
- Who put in late nights or early mornings to hit a deadline?
- Whose work was most noticed or appreciated by a client/customer?
- Who went the extra mile to turn a feature from okay to remarkable?
- Which team members took actions to make your life easier as you delivered on this win?
In coming items, we're going to share ways you can directly recognize your team. Those all can be applied here, but do not underestimate the power of telling your boss, or those higher in your organization who you value most on your team, too.
That sort of recognition shows your leadership maturity, and has a way of getting back to your team in good ways; who doesn't like hearing from their boss's boss, "[your boss] tells me you did a great job with the Smith Project. Keep up the good work!"
7) Surprise them with a thank you note for something awesome they did
In today's day and age of never ending emails, social media notifications, and quick chat conversations, you can really stand out by taking a moment to pause and be thoughtful.
The best praise is specific. It tells people exactly what you liked and want to see more of.
Especially for your most valued people, taking a moment to write a detailed note to them on how much you value them can be more meaningful than a spot bonus to them.
Over the years, I've received a number of personal notes from people expressing their gratitude for something I did to help them. These have made those efforts totally worth it as I knew that the care and effort I put in was truly appreciated. I even put many of them on my wall, to easily see when I'm having a tough day.
For something that you can do in 10 minutes, it can have a lasting impact they'll remember for a very long time.
You can learn more about giving praise to help in motivating your employees here.
8) Set a standard and reward *everyone* who meets it
Mark C Crowley is an inspiring leader. His teams routinely ranked in the top 5% at some of the largest financial services companies in America. And how did he do that? By leading from the heart, which is coincidentally the title of his book.
One of the key lessons in the book is how he praises and sets the standard with his teams:
"Acknowledge people for exceeding whatever it was that you asked them to do.
If you have 30 people working for you and 25 of them met or exceeded the goal, you have to recognize all 25.
A lot of times we go, "Well, it's like the Olympics, we're just going to give gold, silver and bronze.”
If you want to destroy the spirit of the other 17 people that met their goals and your expectations, fail to acknowledge them. You need to take the time and not spend it looking at your watch thinking it's a waste."
It's the thought that counts.
Crowley used bags of candy like the one pictured above to reward his teams. He would toss the candy to each person as he called them out and thanked them for their hard work in front of the rest of the team.
This gave every person working hard a brief moment of public recognition. It also gave those that came up short a healthy moment of feeling left out; it gave them something to strive for next month.
9) When a team member asks you to take a look at something, find one thing to say you liked about it
When your team asks for feedback, it can be easy to focus on the things they did wrong; you're trying to help them improve and make sure that their work is acceptable. As someone who tends to be a tough critic, this was particularly common for me.
This image from a post by the CEO of Carta has always resonated me to capture this concept well:
As I've worked on many of these areas trying to be more positive, I've found that one of the easiest ways to be more positive is to be sure to work in some comments of things I really like in my team's work.
- Like a piece of data they found in their research? Tell them.
- See something really nice when testing a new feature or looking at mocks? Tell them
- Is their code particularly clean, well commented, or clever? Call it out.
- Love a visual in their report? Comment on that.
Remember: You get more of what you praise. So if you like something in work you review, by telling them you like it, you show you're paying attention and what you would love for them to continue to do.
10) Give thoughtful gifts to your team at key times
Want to surprise and thank people you enjoy working with? Sometimes a little heart goes a long way.
When you build rapport with your team, you learn what makes them tick. You'll see them as a complete human being.
And when you do that, you know what they'll see as thoughtful and uniquely appreciating them.
That's why the instagram picture above is so powerful; I got that simple figurine for an engineer I loved working with as a surprise thank you. It cost me a whopping $7.99, and not only did he post that, he texted me how excited he was.
Even better, when we spoke a year later about it, it was still sitting on his desk.
You may be surprised how much loyalty doing things like this can build for you. He and I are still friends 5 years since the last time we worked, despite him living thousands of miles from where I do.
If you're not sure where to start, check out our posts on how to get to know and build rapport with your teams here:
- Why experts agree you should build rapport with your team
- 81 ways to build rapport with anyone.
- How to make your team love you for less than $10
11) Ask your team who they think needs recognized, then tell that person
While you should be leading by example to praise your team, don't feel like it's all up to you. You cannot be everywhere at once, so use your team as eyes and ears, too.
In 1 on 1s, and other meetings and discussions with your team, make time to ask your team a few questions:
- Who is doing a great job?
Who was the unsung hero of the last project?
Which team member(s) do you enjoy working with most? Why them?
Asking questions like these can help you understand who is going above and beyond for their colleagues. And once you know that, you can act.
Tell this person how valued they are by their colleagues. When you do, use one of our other suggestions on this list to not just tell, but also show them that's the case.
This is one of the easiest hacks when you're learning how to be more positive at work; you're outsourcing some of the work of coming up with the praise, then using your position as leader to deliver and amplify it.
Best of all, this approach is evergreen; you can always ask your team for new feedback on who's doing well as you complete projects and team evolves.
If you're looking for more questions to ask your team in 1 on 1s, we have you covered here.
12) Always say thank you to your team.
This is a simple one that would make your grandmother proud. A simple bookend of gratitude to your team for things they do for you can set the tone for your whole team.
The key with this, like so much else on this list, is to give the appropriate level and tone for the situation.
The right level of praise
If someone sends you a quick update, then a simple, "Thanks for the update” can be plenty.
However, if they finally ship a big project or document to you, then dig in a little more. Just like being specific in your praise, be specific in your gratitude.
I like to make sure my gratitude with my team recognizes their efforts, so I'll say things like, "Thanks for jumping on that quickly. The customer appreciates when we give prompt support.” Or, I'll say, "Thanks for going the extra mile for this project. I can see how hard you worked on this.”
Again, these kinds of comments show you're paying attention to your team and makes a simple effort to show you appreciate what they did.
Lack of gratitude can build resentment
This is important, because one of the easiest ways your team can become resentful is if they do not feel seen or heard; think about those times you've done hard work and felt like no one even noticed. Did it make you want to do more of it? Probably not.
The secret meaning behind this gratitude is recognizing your team and the purpose of their work. When they can see how their work matters (which is what those second half of each of my examples is doing), it energizes and values what they do.
If you want to learn more about how to think about Purpose, watch Dan Pink's TED Talk on the 3 ways to motivate employees that matter more than money.
You can also get more ideas how to thank your employees here.
13) Take time once a month to write some detailed feedback to your valued team members
Your team wants to know you're paying attention. But as your team grows, and you build up their Task Relevant Maturity, it's easy to become hands off to the point of rarely checking their work.
That's why it's helpful to remind yourself to take some time to take a look at their work from time to time.
Even if you can only give someone only 20 minutes a month, in that 20 minutes you can do a lot of good:
- Catch problems when they're small: Make minor corrections to improve a project in mid-development.
- Coach them up: Do you see patterns in their work that could improve? Now you know what to coach them up on and teach them about in more detail in your next 1 on 1.
- Make them feel seen/heard: By looking at their work, you let them know that you still have an occasional eye on their work and value it enough to look at it.
And best of all, you take advantage of something called the Hawthorne effect.
It is the amazing discovery that performance improves on your team simply by your team knowing you're watching.
It doesn't matter how it happens (though obviously a caring approach beats a tyrannical one). So realize you have a pretty much guaranteed improvement from your team by doing this.
Want help on how to give good feedback when you look at their work? This post can help you get beyond the proverbial sh*t sandwich.