Why you should be giving precise praise, not blurry praise

Simon Breakspear
25 June 2024

The idea: The power of giving precise praise

Giving precise praise earns you greater connection and trust dividends with someone than giving vague, blurry praise – plus, it’s more useful to their development

30-Second Version

  • It’s all too easy to text someone vague affirmation like: ‘great job on that presentation’, which certainly has its place.
  • However, giving precise praise that captures what about someone’s effort was praiseworthy helps them know for future exactly what to do more of so they can amplify their efforts.
  • Precise praise is also useful to receive and forms a stronger connection between the giver and receiver.


The Full Read

Have a think about the last piece of positive feedback you personally received – was it blurry or precise? How did it make you feel, and then what could you do with it in terms of guiding your future actions? There are a lot of small shifts you can make in conversational norms that make a big difference. One of these is in how you frame and deliver praise and encouragement.

As leaders, we all want to motivate our teams with meaningful praise and encouragement. We want to specifically call out and encourage members of the team across the staff that are doing great things, but our norm is to tend towards ‘blurry praise’, or vague affirmation. This is often the currency of adult interactions between leaders and teams.

The reality is that as we are rushing between classes and meetings, it can be hard to find time in the day to really pause and consider how best to frame up praise that someone can learn from and which really connects. Our norm is to tend toward ‘blurry praise’ or vague affirmation – it’s easy to send a quick text saying “great job today on that presentation, it landed really well.” But the limitation of this is that it doesn’t help people to learn from and amplify the elements of what they did that led to improvement.

There’s huge benefit for both the giver and receiver in pausing to prepare more precise praise that captures the essence of someone’s effort. Here are some examples of the difference.

Blurry praise
“I loved that presentation today, nice job, landed really well.”

Precise praise
“The way you combined 5 simple slide images with a clear narrative made your presentation particularly compelling. I’d love for you to help us work towards making this the norm for all of our leadership presentations.”

The case for precision

Precise praise requires a pause and capturing of a specific action someone does – this is particularly ideal when you’re trying to take the time to savour the small or big wins in a team. When you capture with precision what about someone’s contribution stood out, you earn a trust dividend and forge a far greater connection with that person. It also equips them to know what behaviour or skill is being highlighted, which helps them to amplify their efforts in the future and continue in the same direction.

Creating the habit

Veering towards giving more precise praise may take a conscious effort at first. Start by mapping out how you’d rate the proportion of blurry praise versus precise praise you would currently give as a leader. The goal is then to aim to prepare and provide one additional piece of precise praise per day. Early on you might need to pause and make a note around who it was, what they did, and what specifically you want to call out. Once you get into a rhythm, you’ll do this more intuitively.

Challenge → How could you begin to create a habit of giving precise praise to your team members? Consider a diary reminder or other sticky note on your desk to establish a rhythm. This week, aim to start giving one piece of precise praise daily.

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