How to appreciate performance and not praise qualities?

Mental health,
May, 2023

Did you know that praise can sometimes do more harm than good?

American social and developmental psychologist Carol Dweck has spent most of her life studying how people reach their potential or don’t. What she came up with is being used around the world, not only in a work with children, but also it works with athletes, businesspeople, and others. It is a fundamental division into fixed and growth mind-sets. What does it mean?

  • There are people who believe that their abilities, talents, and intelligence are immutable. They are born with them. Either they have a talent for painting, or they don't, it's a given.
  • The other group of people believes that they can change and evolve their talents, abilities, and intelligence throughout their lives. They paint a nice picture not because they are naturally talented, but because they learn to see things from the right angle, gradually cultivating that skill until one day they paint a beautiful picture!

Which group are you closer to? Instead of painting, you can think of any other activity. A sport, a musical instrument, a subject at school or a task at work. Whether it's the first or the second, let's see how it relates to praise.


In the first example, we see a fixed mind-set. Praise of talents and qualities like, "You're so talented!” or “You're so smart!" will lead people to choose fewer challenging things for the next task so that they don't fail and maintain that claim about themselves. Because if they fail, their minds will fill in the opposite, i.e. that they are stupid. As a result, their motivation and self-esteem are likely to decrease.


On the other hand, if we appreciate the efforts made, we will encourage a growth mind-set. This second group of people believe that their abilities are not fixed in everything, but that they can grow through effort, experience, and hard work. They will not be afraid to fail on the next assignment but will be more inquisitive and determined to take on more challenging tasks.

Focusing on process and effort can look like this: "By studying hard and focusing yesterday, you passed the test with flying colors today!"

So how to praise?

  • Always focus not only on the process, but also connect it to the outcome. Attention! There must be an effective effort to bring the promised effect.
  • If things don't go well, let's try to find better strategies and resources together with the person that will lead to success. Even failure can help a person with a growth mind-set to achieve better results in the future.
  • Let's be specific and not use phrases like, "Good job", but honestly find what behaviors led to a favorable outcome. Let's not praise falsely, but always sincerely.
  • Let's not delay praise but communicate it while it's fresh.
  • Let us think ahead. Our praise is of great importance. What message are we conveying?

So, when is it worthwhile to praise performance? Whenever we want to encourage others in their future endeavors and increase their confidence and motivation for future tasks. \n Check out the resources we used to learn more:

  • Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset - Updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.


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