Despite what many managers believe, employees really pay attention to the things that are said to them by their supervisors. Even small comments about performance can have a significant impact. This is why supervisors should be aware and deliberate about how they communicate with their team. Here are a few tips.

Praise vs. Criticism – Studies show that the ratio of praise to criticism is very important in how we feel about any relationship. Some studies say that the praise to criticism should be at least 4:1 or even as high as 12:1 for a person to feel good about another person. Both praise and criticism are important parts of any relationship. Unfortunately, it is often easier to think about criticism than it is to think about praise. Therefore it is important to take opportunities to give praise.

Small Praise is Still Praise – Sometimes it is easy to think about praise as something big and flowery like “you are a great person” or “I really value you as an employee”. While there is nothing wrong with this type of praise, if It said too often, it starts to sound less than genuine. A good tip is to think about small praises when opportunities arise. Small comments like “that’s a really good thought” or “I like how you approached that” can have a significant impact and are easy to give (if you are paying attention).

Be Specific – General praise can be misunderstood. “You did a really good job” is a nice bit of praise, but you can do better and provide more insight by being more specific. “Your attention to detail on that project really helped our team catch that potential mishap with our customer.”

Resist Comparisons – In a competitive world, it is tempting praise someone by telling them that they are the “best” at something. However, a lot of studies show that this type of praise has undesirable side effects because it hints that their performance is totally within their control. Imagine you are the best basketball player on a team and I tell you that. What happens when Michael Jordan suddenly joins the team?

Non-Direct Praise – Acknowledgement is another form of praise that is often overlooked. I’ve often watched supervisors walk by employees without as much as a nod in their direction. I’ve also observed employees notice this. It lands almost like criticism. This doesn’t mean that you have to say “hi” to everyone on your team during the hundreds of daily interactions. However, many of the best supervisors make a point of doing a “walk around” at the beginning of the day greeting each employee and asking them how they are and if they need anything.

Praise is a habit and it takes some deliberate practice. By implementing some of the above habits, you may find that you create a positive shift in the attitude, and even the performance of your team.