We explore the art of giving compliments, shedding light on its importance in the workplace and its impact on children's development. 

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By CELA on 1 Mar, 2024

Compliments in the workplace: more than just kind words 

In the workplace, compliments are often underestimated as mere niceties. However, their significance runs deep, influencing culture, motivation, and overall productivity. A well-placed compliment can serve as a powerful tool for recognition, affirming an individual's efforts and contributions. It fosters a positive work environment, where appreciation is openly expressed, thereby enhancing job satisfaction and loyalty. 

The absence of compliments or recognition can lead individuals to question their purpose," observes Jannelle Gallagher, a former ECEC Director and CELA early education specialist.

Research suggests that employees who receive regular, sincere compliments are more likely to be productive, engaged, and willing to go the extra mile for their team. Furthermore, compliments can bridge gaps between different levels of hierarchy, promoting a culture of respect and mutual appreciation. In essence, when leaders and colleagues freely acknowledge each other's strengths and achievements, it creates a ripple effect of positivity, driving collective success. 

It's interesting to note that the act of giving praise not only benefits the recipient but positively affects the giver as well.

Research highlights that the type of praise given—whether focused on effort or ability—plays a critical role in its impact. Effort-focused praise has been found to positively influence motivation, underscoring the value of acknowledging hard work and perseverance. Conversely, ability-focused praise, which attributes success to innate talent, can sometimes negatively affect motivation, suggesting a nuanced approach to giving compliments is necessary for fostering a positive environment. (Kakinuma et.al, 2020) 

“We want to know that our leaders really see us and know us – that they know what we bring to the table and appreciate the work that we do,” says CELA early education specialist Rachel Ho. “Affirmations and acknowledgements contribute to a positive workplace culture and can be a motivator in our own continuous growth.” 

The role of compliments in child development 

The early years are crucial for emotional and social development, and the feedback children receive plays a significant role in shaping their self-esteem and identity. Compliments, when given thoughtfully, can bolster a child's confidence, encourage positive behaviours, and reinforce their sense of worth. 

However, the art of complimenting children involves a delicate balance. 

According to The Hanen Centre, research has shown that different types of praise have different effects on children. Distinctions have been made between person praise and process praise. 

Person praise evaluates a child globally, telling them that they are good or smart or outstanding. Examples of this kind of praise include, "You're a good girl", "You're so good at this", or "I'm very proud of you". Studies have shown that person praise reduces motivation, focuses children on their performance and encourages them to compare their performance with that of others. (Maclellan, 2005) 

Process praise is related to the child's effort, and focuses on his or her behaviour and actual "work" or output. Examples of process praise include "you tried really hard" or "I see how carefully you are building that tower." Process praise has been shown to encourage children to develop a flexible mindset, confront their weaknesses, and take on challenges. (Bayat, 2011)

As we nurture a child through their early years, the words they hear about themselves shape their own internal dialogue,” shares Rachel. “We want children to know about their individual strengths and we want children to feel confident and empowered in who they are—to grow up in a society that is in a constant dance of giving and receiving. A space where they not only love themselves, but see and appreciate all the things there are to love in other people too.

It's essential to focus on effort and process rather than innate qualities or outcomes. Acknowledging a child for their hard work, persistence, or creativity, rather than just the end result, nurtures a growth mindset. This approach helps children understand the value of effort and resilience, setting them up for lifelong learning and adaptation. 

Swapping praise for acknowledgement

In her paper "Not in Praise of Praise," Louise Porter, a PhD and child psychologist, challenges the conventional wisdom that praising bolsters children's self-esteem. Instead, Porter advocates for the substitution of praise with acknowledgement, arguing that self-esteem's nature is deeply intertwined with how children perceive themselves through the feedback received from adults.

Porter explains that how we feel about ourselves (self-esteem) comes from two main ideas: how we see ourselves and how we wish we could be. She says that feeling bad about ourselves doesn't always happen because we're missing certain skills. Instead, it often happens when there's a mismatch between how we view ourselves and how we think we should be. This mismatch can be because we don't see the good things about ourselves or because we're trying to be perfect. Porter argues that when we praise children by judging them or comparing them to others, it can make this mismatch worse. This is because it sets up goals that are too high or encourages trying to be perfect, which can make children feel even worse about themselves.

Acknowledgement, as Porter suggests, offers a more constructive alternative to praise by focusing on providing children with information about their personal skills and qualities without judgement. This approach helps to expand children's self-concept in a positive manner, encouraging them to evaluate their own efforts and appreciate their achievements from a self-referential standpoint rather than an external standard. By doing so, acknowledgement avoids the pitfalls of praise, such as promoting competition or setting conditional standards for self-worth. 

She gives examples of how this action be actioned in different instances. Here are two of her examples: 

Example 1

Action: A child who has completed a painting comes to you asking ‘Is this good?’ while looking pleased with it.

Praise: Hey, that’s great! Good for you.

Acknowledgement: You look delighted with that! I agree with you: I think you should be pleased.  Looks like you enjoyed doing that.  It looks to me like you planned your painting very carefully.  What’s your favourite part?

Example 2

Action: A child who has completed a painting comes to you asking ‘Is this good?’ while looking dispirited.

Praise: Hey, that’s really good. You’ve done well.

Acknowledgement: I can see you’re disappointed with it.  What don’t you like about it?  How come it didn’t turn out as you’d hoped?  Do you want to fix it, or just leave it for now? 

6 tips for giving compliments in the workplace 

Giving effective compliments, whether in the workplace or to children, requires mindfulness and sincerity. The key lies in being specific, focusing on observable actions or qualities, and avoiding flattery or excessive praise, which can dilute the message's authenticity. Additionally, receiving compliments with grace, acknowledging the giver's intent, and reflecting on the positive behaviours being reinforced are crucial aspects of this exchange. 

  1. Be specific: Generic compliments can sometimes feel empty or insincere. Instead, focus on specific achievements or qualities. For example, rather than saying "Good job," you might say, "Your reflection was incredibly detailed and well thought out. It provided valuable insights that helped us to change our thinking around that matter."  
  2. Be timely: Offering compliments shortly after the achievement or action ensures the feedback is relevant and reinforces positive behaviour. Timely recognition can also boost motivation and encourage continued excellence. 
  3. Focus on growth and development: Compliments that acknowledge personal growth or development can be particularly motivating. Recognising someone's progress in a certain area encourages further learning and improvement. 
  4. Avoid backhanded compliments: Ensure your compliment is positive and doesn't inadvertently criticise another aspect of the person's work or character. For instance, "You finally got it right this time" can undermine the compliment and the recipient's confidence. 
  5. Practice active listening: Active listening can provide opportunities to give meaningful compliments. By paying close attention to what your colleagues say and do, you can offer specific and heartfelt recognition of their contributions. 
  6. Be genuine: Perhaps the most crucial aspect of giving compliments is sincerity. People can usually tell when a compliment is not genuine, which can have a negative impact. Ensure your compliments genuinely reflect your appreciation and respect for the person's work or qualities. 

In summary, whether in the workplace, at home, or in educational settings, the power of compliments should not be underestimated. In the workplace, creating a culture where compliments are part of everyday interactions can significantly enhance morale and productivity. Similarly, in parenting or education, using compliments as tools for positive reinforcement can support children's developmental journey, helping them grow into confident, resilient individuals. 


Kyosuke Kakinuma , Mai Nakai , Yuki Hada , Mari Kizawa & Ayumi Tanaka(2020): Praise affects the “Praiser”: Effects of ability-focused vs. effort-focused praise on motivation, The Journal of Experimental Education, DOI: 10.1080/00220973.2020.1799313

Maclellan, E. (2005). Academic achievement: the role of praise in motivating students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 194-206.

Bayat, M. (2011). Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise with Young Children. Topics in Special Education, 31(2), 121-128.

Porter, L. (2009). The Value of Acknowledgement Over Praise. Retrieved from https://www.louiseporter.com.au/_admin/resources/thevalueofacknowledgementoverpraiseweb.pdf

CELA training relating to this topic


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Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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