The book "Nurture Shock" by Po Bronsn and Ashley Merryman was one of the various books recommended during a seminar at Staff Conference. It sounded intriguing so I got it and it has been fascinating.
The first chapter is all about praise. More specifically the type of praise we often tell children. The chapter references a a study done of the effect of telling children they did great because "you are so smart" vs. "you put so much effort into this". The study basically found that those kids praised for their smarts tend to do worse later on or give up quicker when things get hard.
A few of my favorite quotes from chapter 1:
"Emphasizing effort give a child a variable that they can control," she explains. "They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to failure." - Dweck
"the effect of praise can very significantly, depending on the praise give. To be effective, researchers have found, praise needs to be specific...sincerity of praise is also crucial."
"Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children's lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can't say during the day - We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you."
Even though we don't have kids, I can't believe how often I automatically just praise kids for being smart. Or praise kids in a very generic, unspecific way. I started thinking about why I a non-parent do this. I didn't have a great answer until later that week when a co-workers daughter came in before school and helped me with a project for a few minutes.
I set the kid up at a desk across from mine, gave her the instructions for the task (counting out static clings into piles of ten), and then turned back around to do my own work. A few seconds later, the kid asked if she had done the task correctly. I glanced over, saw a bunch of haphazard piles that looked about right, and was about to say something totally generic like "Wow, that looks great, good job kiddo!" and realized this non-specific praise was ready to roll right off my tongue without me even thinking. The reason why hit me simultaneously. I was going to say this very non-specific praise because I hadn't really been paying attention, wanted to get back to my work, but still wanted to praise her in someway for helping.
So often I substitute generic praise for specific praise because I simply hadn't been paying attention and I'm trying to cover up my preoccupation.
So I stopped myself from automatically praising, walked over to where she was and actually took a look at what she had done. I told her, "I think that looks right, but let me check." I recounted a few piles of static clings and told her "Ya, you counted perfectly and I'm really glad you took the time to double check when you thought the pile was wrong (I had heard her recounting a few times).
What was surprising to me was when I got back to my desk, I heard her recounting much more as she continued on. I'm not sure if she would have if I had done the generic praise.
Either way, it was challenging to me to think of the types of praise I give. To kids, to co-workers and even my family and a challenge to take the extra time and give more specific praise.