Management guru Justin Bariso has told that workers will always see through inauthentic praise – so the two key steps for providing effective commendations are i) make them sincere, and ii) make them specific.

On the sincerity point, Bariso says: “I had one client years ago that told me, ‘Well, you can’t commend everyone, because not everyone’s good at things.’ But the truth is, everyone’s good at something – and as the team leader, it’s your job to identify those things and to tell them.” On the benefits of being specific, he notes: “People may appreciate it if you go to them and say, ‘Hey – great job on that presentation yesterday.’ But what if you tell them exactly what you liked about the presentation? What if you tell them about the point you never knew before?”

All of which is great – but recent research from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) indicates that bosses have a hard time even squaring up to the idea of providing praise. In a survey of 7,808 managers, they found that those who avoided giving negative feedback (21%) were far outweighed by those who avoided giving positive feedback (37%).

HBR said: “We can only conclude that many managers feel that it’s their job to tell their direct reports bad news and correct them when they make a mistake, but that taking the time to provide positive feedback is optional. We think this is a mistake.”

Why would it benefit managers to overcome that mentality and be more open with their praise?

The Institute of Leadership and Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The great thing about praise is that it’s a non-financial reward. It’s a brilliant way of inspiring and motivating your staff. As long, of course, as the praise is authentic, as Bariso notes – and the easiest way to make it authentic is concentrate on the small things. The smaller those details are, the easier it is to recognise and respond to them.

“It could be argued that the British – being perhaps a little more reserved than some other national cultures – would find that more difficult. But we tend to understate matters when things go badly, too, so there’s a certain balance: we may not gush, but we don’t catastrophise, either.”

Cooper adds: “Praise is motivating, inspiring and encouraging, and it’s like a muscle – always more reflexive and in tune when it’s being used. So use it! Get good at it. It will make you feel better for exercising it. There’s no reason to be reluctant to engage that muscle. But using it in a meaningful way means that it must be deserved, it must be authentic – and it must be conveyed clearly, so it’s received in the way in which you intend it to be.”

For further thoughts on how to say the right thing at the right time, check out this learning item from the Institute