Great job, but…

But is such a small word, and it’s tempting to use it in way too many situations. Leave it out of compliments and apologies.

Great job, but… by Nancy Knowlton

Some years ago I joined a senior women’s basketball team when I moved to Calgary. All of my teammates had played at the college or university level and we were all in great shape and coming into our peak as players. I had played on some pretty good teams with some excellent coaching and had competed against some outstanding players. Joining a new team with some nice people was one of the ways that I slipped easily into a new life in a new city.

Gave it my best shot

Before I joined the team I had a short conversation with the coach. He knew me from national competitions, and when he learned that I was moving to Calgary, he had actively recruited me to the team. He was very complimentary about my abilities, and I felt good about joining the team. During the first week of practice the coach casually told me that he wanted to change my shot. As a shooter, someone who had spent thousands of hours working on all of the minutia of shots under a myriad of conditions, I heard his words reverberate in my mind. For the next short while, he worked with me every practice, trying to undo all of the shooting skill that I had painstakingly acquired. I gave it my best shot, literally, and then one day I quit. I found another team and went right back to shooting and scoring the way that I knew and that worked so well.

Demotivating comments

In hindsight the thing that stood out for me was the constant qualified compliments he gave me. Good shot, but… Nice job, but… No compliment stood alone for me to cherish. Everything always had but attached. I had no option but to quit and get away from the abusive and demotivating environment.

A job well done

Through the years I have had to catch myself at work and at home as I have headed down the same path of adding but to the end of a compliment. It takes a conscious effort to simply compliment someone on a job well done – even if it wasn’t perfectly done. People who feel appreciated and valued have a positive outlook on what they are doing and what they can do. Maybe they will accomplish just a little bit more because of those positive feelings. This is particularly true as people are developing skills and learning new things. Some might say that they worry about being overly effusive in delivering compliments or thanks. Is it possible to say too many positive things to coworkers and your team? I don’t think so. If I have to err on one side, I would err on the side of giving too many compliments and being too positive. I feel good about catching someone doing something good, and people feel good when they are noticed and appreciated.

Growing in confidence

I just have to think about what encouragement and positive comments do for children. From a very young age children take pride in doing things well or right. They show what they know and literally grow in confidence before our eyes in a positive environment.

Keep it short and sweet

The same advice holds for delivering an apology. I’m sorry is short and sweet, and it’s hard to not hear the apology in it. I’m sorry, but your behavior made me so mad is no apology at all. There’s no satisfaction in it for the receiver and in fact, it lays the blame on the receiver, not the apologizer. But is such a small word, and it’s tempting to use it in way too many situations. Leave it out of compliments and apologies. You’ll feel better for it and so will those around you at work and at home.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.