Strong opinions, weakly held

We need to be less stingy with praise and acknowledgement

Since Steve Jobs passed away, I’ve read a great many things about him that really struck me, but I haven’t written anything about it. I’ve been an appreciator of Apple products for over 20 years, and have been a user of them for at least 30. I admired his drive, genius, and passion greatly. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about the need to let other people know that you appreciate their work. I was sort of inspired by this, but I was more inspired by a talk I heard this week.

The talk, presented by Donnie Berkholz, is called Assholes are killing your project. In it, he explains the corrosive effect that negative people have on a volunteer project. It doesn’t matter how productive they are individually, the toll they take on the volunteer community outweighs whatever good work they do on their own. In the talk, he mentions that research shows that on average five good interactions are required to make up for every bad interaction, so it’s very important to get rid of the assholes. What I also take away from that, though, is that we all need to take more responsibility for making up the gap with good interactions.

I will be the first to admit that while I am pretty good about thanking people who do things I appreciate, I’m not so great at handing out praise. I think that’s mostly projection — I’m not the best at receiving praise. But what I’m realizing is that being generous with sincere and meaningful praise is essential. A decision to be more forthcoming with praise puts the giver in a state of mind to be more observant of good things, which has to be good psychologically, and of course receiving praise offsets the negative reinforcement we’re bombarded with on a daily basis.

So, how do we become more liberal with praise? The mechanisms of social software make it easier than ever. You can Favorite things on Twitter and on Flickr. There are Facebook Like buttons and Google +1 buttons everywhere. And of course, you can leave positive feedback in comments or just send someone an email telling them that you appreciate their work. For more on that, I’d recommend Anil Dash’s post All in Favor. In the real world giving people a nice comment is easy enough if you try.

Praise and acknowledgement are not limited commodities. Everyone benefits if we are more generous with them.


  1. You’re doing a really great job on this blog.

  2. The first page I set out to write on my personal website is titled “Respect”. You’re linked in it. I have no expectation of ever seeing my name in a page like that, but wish more people would do it. Most authors are just too modest and you only hear about the great things they have done or written when other people take the time to write about and thank them.

    (Please ignore previous comment and edit this bit out.) 🙂

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