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Give a pat on the back: How to praise someone professionally

September 20, 2022 - 12 min read


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Giving effective praise in your workspace

Praise the ones who deserve it, it pays off

Good manners matter: what do you say to a professional compliment?

What happens if you let this slide under the table?

Remember the reason behind your words

People are always trying to find ways to make their teams happy. What about learning how to praise someone professionally?

Giving a team member a special shout-out for their hard work sparks motivation and creates a more positive work environment, empowering employees to go the extra mile. 

But sometimes, we're at a loss for words of appreciation. Some compliments aren’t as impactful, while others don’t feel like genuine compliments. What means the world to one person might not matter to another. That's why we're here to explain how to professionally praise team members and how to respond to compliments.

Giving effective praise in your workspace

When you're learning how to praise someone for their achievements, you want to be concrete and specific. Professional compliments shouldn't be vague or seem like an exaggeration, but purposeful. 

Not all of your praise should sound the same. Perhaps you'll praise one team member on their communication skills, but another on their attention to detail. Regardless, genuine compliments should motivate your team. A survey found that more than 80% of employees don't feel like their efforts are recognized or appreciated. You can change that. 

Take the time to listen to your team, and think about how each situation invites the opportunity for positive feedback. If you need help, we've compiled five examples for you to review:

1. Giving praise for problem-solving

Let's say a project at work demanded a lot of creative problem-solving and took forever to accomplish. Those who put in the extra effort to make that happen would feel good about having their work ethic acknowledged.

"You really put in lots of extra time to finish this project. I appreciate your dedication and work ethic. Nice job!"

2. Praising a new team member

Beginning a job is stressful, potentially driving them to doubt their abilities or experience imposter syndrome. Praising them will make them comfortable and motivate them to put their best foot forward.

"I like that you're asking many questions to ensure you understand everything. You're picking things up quickly, and I already see your positive impact on the rest of the team."


3. Showing gratitude for collaborative work

Not everyone works well with others, preferring to work individually. Collaborative work might end poorly if someone feels they were unsupported or did more than their fair share. , But it's also an opportunity for people to learn from one another, produce fantastic work, and build trust.

"You've been a real team player this week. Your positive attitude has been infectious, and I can tell that others feel more motivated because of you. Thank you!"

4. Acknowledging a big accomplishment

Every professional strives to be their best self. What might seem like an everyday task to some might be a big deal or mark a milestone in someone else’s growth and professional development. Acknowledging this effort will motivate them to keep improving.

"I admire how hard you've been working on your public speaking skills lately. I know that's been a big skill you've wanted to improve, and you’ve grown so much lately."

5. Celebrating anniversaries or milestones

Encouraging employees through their journey of achieving their goals, whether short-term or long-term, is great — but it’s not enough. You must also praise them once they accomplish their goals.

"I'm so impressed with your sales this month. You've beaten your past record by a long shot, and I'm grateful for your hard work and motivation to reach new goals."

Giving effective praises requires you to be articulate with your words. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to help you craft compliments to praise each team member for their work.

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Praise the ones who deserve it, it pays off

Practicing how to praise someone for their talent helps people feel appreciated, welcomed, and motivated. Research shows that positive feedback helps combat stress' impact on employee performance. Plus, it helps people learn what they're good at and strengthen their skills.

But the benefits of praising people don’t end here. Studies have found that when team members are recognized for their efforts, the workplace has lower turnover rates and higher levels of employee engagement. Appreciation creates an environment where people feel empowered, learn how to become mentors for others, and see the value in their work. 


Some people are still unaware of the impact of professional compliments on teammates. One study showed that people don't realize the power they have in giving compliments and how they boost people's morale and self-esteem.

The study also cited that people were worried about how they’d deliver their compliments and if the recipient would even care. But people accepted and appreciated the praise with uplifted moods.

Besides appreciating someone face-to-face, you can learn how to praise someone professionally in an email, over instant messages like Slack, or by leaving a quick note on their desks. Any effort is thoughtful and appreciated. Don’t underestimate the power of your words.

Good manners matter: what do you say to a professional compliment?

It's OK to feel a little awkward when someone’s complimenting you. But knowing how to receive a professional compliment is important. It shows your appreciation while ensuring the person that their praise is valued and admired. This will help you build stronger relationships and even make friends at work.

Here are four examples of how you can respond to compliments:

1. Professional praise for your creative ideas

Creativity has many different sources, and it's sometimes hard to pinpoint your ideas’ origins. But when someone praises you and you're unsure what to say, go back to the basics. Even if you're tongue-tied or at a loss for words, a simple "Thank you" is still a response.

2. Compliments on a project you accomplished

Perhaps you didn't work on a project individually and asked others for help. Remember to stay humble when someone praises the project and acknowledge the people who helped you. You're still able to celebrate your success without undermining yourself, but acknowledging how you did it helps too.


3. Praise for your extra effort 

Your hard work shouldn't go unnoticed, and your managers might give you a special shout-out. Besides your words, your body language expresses gratitude. Try shaking their hand and nodding, and maintaining eye contact as they speak. It shows that you're attentive and value their time compliments.

4. Compliments on your leadership

Examples of leadership compliments are "I appreciate your unique perspective on our projects when it comes to problem-solving" or "I like the way you always make an effort to inspire and empower other team members." When someone says this, you can directly acknowledge their compliment by saying, “it's nice of you to say that” or “that’s very thoughtful of you.”

What happens if you let this slide under the table?

But wait, what happens when you don't praise your employees enough or even at all?

Gallup and Workman teamed up to conduct a study on company culture that found that employees who hear genuine, consistent professional compliments and recognition for their work are:

  • 3 times more likely to be more loyal to their workplace
  • 56% less likely to look for another job
  • 4 times more likely to be engaged with their work

The study also found that 70% of employees who receive professional praise and recognition said they had more positive lives. Their recognition helped prevent burnout and supported their well-being outside the office.

People don't have that same motivation without employee recognition. And not taking the extra time to praise someone professionally doesn't just hurt employee performance and experience.


The same survey found that organizations save up to $16.1 million in turnover annually when they make employee recognition a priority. Without professional praise, a company has poor retention, which costs much more than a genuine compliment.

Remember the reason behind your words

Learning how to praise someone professionally means being intentional with your words. You must care about helping others feel comfortable, motivated, and proud of themselves. 

Your praise doesn’t have to be flashy or performative. Take the time to pause and think about the employee you're going to compliment. Ensure your words are genuine and tailored to their accomplishments.

Above all, remind yourself that you're encouraging a positive work environment, and your compliments will never go unappreciated.

This isn't something you have to learn how to do alone. At BetterUp, our coaches are here to help you learn how to give professional compliments to support your team.

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Published September 20, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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