Be quick to praise and slow to blame

It is not surprising that many managers and supervisors don’t know how and why to recognize their employees when those managers have been on the receiving end of criticism for most of their lives. That’s one of the reasons why they are quick to criticize in their turn.

How do we know that managers are quick to blame and slow to praise? The conclusive proof is in surveys conducted by Sirota Consulting, which revealed that only 38% of employees disagreed with the statement, “I get criticized much more quickly for poor performance than praised for good performance.” This figure was reached from interviewing 2.5 million employees in 237 private, public and not-for-profit organizations in 89 countries around the world over 10 years. And it was reached by surveying all employees in each organization, not just a sample.

A big influence on the compulsion to criticize is the way, from an early age, children find that parents and teachers focus on their mistakes rather than their achievements. A Gallup poll comparing parents’ focus on their children’s best grades compared with their focus on their worst grades in several countries and cultures found consistent negative focus. The scores were:

Focused on ‘A’s as a percentage
UK – 22
Japan – 18
China – 8
France – 7
USA – 7
Canada – 6

Focused on ‘F’s as a percentage
UK – 52
Japan – 43
China – 56
France – 87
USA – 77
Canada – 83

But where the focus is on praise, the results clearly show the benefits. (This doesn’t mean that the extreme of total praise is healthy, either. Experience with schoolchildren who are praised to the extreme has found them to be narcissistic and lacking in the resilience needed for coping with life’s ups and downs.)

A study of three groups of children in mathematics classes showed the rate of improvement from increased praise as follows:


Praised 71%
Criticized 19%
Ignored 5%


  •  Sirota, David; Mischkind, Louis A.; Meltzer, Michael Irwin. The enthusiastic employee – how companies profit by giving workers what they want. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Wharton School Publishing, 2005, pp. 207-208.
  • Losada, M. “The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modeling, 30, pp. 179-192, in Rath, Tom and Clifton, Donald O. How full is your bucket? New York: Gallup Press, 2004, p. 57.
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