Praise should motivate your employees, but in some cases it does just the opposite.
Here’s how to make sure positive feedback actually works:
Don’t cushion the blow.
Don’t routinely say something “nice” before giving criticism. Doing so conditions people to hear positive feedback as a hollow preamble to your real message. Lead instead with your investment in the relationship and reasons for having the conversation.
Praise effort, not personal attributes.
Intelligence, talent, or abilities are mostly innate and cannot be actively replicated. Instead, compliment effort and explain exactly what actions prompted your approval. If you’re specific, you’ll reinforce the desired behavior.
Adapted from the HBR Guide to Coaching Your Employees.