Secrets to Giving Effective Praise and Apologies

Steve Williamson, Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.
Monday, June 14, 2021
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Secrets to Giving Effective Praise and Apologies

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Tags: #praise #apologies #communication

Everyone loves to be praised. We feel good when someone acknowledges us and our contribution. There are right and wrong ways to give praise effectively, though.

While considering the do's and don't's of giving effective praise, we also wanted to know if there are good and bad ways to give an effective apology. It's fairly obvious when an apology falls flat, but the right one can turn a bad situation into a moment of growth and positivity.

To get the answer to these questions — how do you give effective praise and apologies? — we tapped into a group of business leaders and Human Resources professionals to see what advice they had.

There is a common theme within the group's responses. As you read their contributions, see if you can guess what it is.

Alex Killick

Twitter: @killick_alex

A bit like an apology, praise works best when it is timely and intentional. Praise also works best when it's not followed by "but." When I was a Director of People, I was always determined to flip the conversation away from 'catching people out to catching them doing well.' If people know you have their back, then they will thank you for it through their performance. In one of my favourite films of all time, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Steve Martin, who plays the plucky Philip Marlowe-style detective, is drugged and finds himself asking the villain (in disguise butler played by Carl Reiner) to "catch him." Steve Martin falls to the ground as the butler says, "Sorry, but I'm a butler, not a catcher." Don't be a leader that doesn't catch and doesn't care, and don't be a leader that can only find the faults. Be one that catches people doing well and in the moment. Be a catcher, not a 'but' head.

"Never follow praise or an apology with ‘but...'" — Alex Killick

The first thing you do is say "sorry" or "really sorry" and do it right away if you can. I remember too many conversations at an executive/senior level where we would construct an apology without liability. If you make a mistake, own it. Make the other person know and feel that you are "sore" which is the root of the word. An apology that needs to be demanded or requested is too late. It is often given to prevent soreness or sorrow to the giver rather than being heartfelt. It's also not the best idea to follow an apology with "but." So, mean it, do it quickly, don't drown it in sophistry, and never qualify it.

Sharon Green

Twitter: @SharonGChiara

Effective praise is sincere, authentic and meaningful. To be effective the context needs to be right. It's ideal when it's given in the moment and tailored to the appreciated actions, behaviour, words or impact. If the other person prefers public, private, personal or low key praise, consider their needs. Tell them why it was so impactful and worthy of mentioning.

"Give praise freely, frequently and with feeling." — Sharon Green

An effective apology comes from the heart and soul. We need to mean it and give it sincerely with no strings attached. I find people can easily smell a rat with a trite ‘I'm sorry' given with little attachment or that is designed to move things past the moment, rather than acknowledging there was something not quite right in the first place. Another big no no-no is the politician's apology, "I'm sorry if you feel offended by..."

Be genuine, honest, sincere, authentic and say what the apology's about. Then pause and listen to what comes back.

Steve Browne

Twitter: @sbrownehr

I make sure it's one-to-one (hopefully face-to-face, even virtually). Make it concise and encouraging. I make sure to keep the praise based on behavior more than accomplishments.


I own the situation first and always. The apology starts with how I fell short (real or perceived). Then I frame the apology with how I will do my best to do better in the future. I stay away from hollow sentiments and promises.

"The key with any apology or praise is genuine candor." — Steve Browne

Phil Marsland

Twitter: @FulfordPhil

Its all about the receiver — How do they want it? What makes them comfortable, public or private? Be timely. Give your praise as close to the event that is praiseworthy as possible. Be specific about what they did and its impact, and be genuine. Make it special — don't do it every day or it will lose its potency and value.


You have to mean it, not just because you think you should. It should be (again!) about the impact on others or events, not about salving your own ego.

"If you're sorry, say it, mean it and be genuine about what it is about. Remember, it's not weak to apologize, it's human." — Phil Marsland

Jayne Harrison

Twitter: @JayneHarrison3

Mean it, be specific, and understand what's important to the receiver. Tell them why you are giving them the praise — what you've noticed, what it means to the team/organization, etc. Notice what they do consistently well. Sometimes we miss that and take someone's everyday brilliance for granted.

Sam Jenniges

Twitter: @recognitionreb2

[Editor's Note: See Sam Jenniges's book, Recognition Rebooted, for a fantastic resource on how to give effective recognition [1].]

Use this handy acronym to guide you as you give praise and recognition to others, both small and large: TIPPS

  • Truthful: No watered down, generic BS. It has to be real.
  • Impact: State the impact their actions made. This one is the big amplifier. When you state the impact behind your recognition, your teams will walk through hell in a gas suit for you. They will know you get them.
  • Personal: Don't lump others in when praising one person.
  • Specific: Be clear and specific about what they did.
  • Sincere: If you are truthful and specific, you will be sincere.

Put TIPSS together in any order. Here's an example:

"Hi, Ringo. I want to thank you so much for teaching Yoko how to use the time recording system last week. Thanks to you, I noticed fewer errors and more entries which helps ensure my data is accurate. Thank you so much!"


Don't make it about yourself. Don't use it as an opportunity to gush about how enlightened you've become. Don't avoid using phrases like "I am sorry" or "I was wrong" or "You were right to tell me." Don't try to be cute or clever. Just be sincere and to the point.

Submission from Twitter's #BeTheRipple participant


Praise should always be genuine and meaningful. I also find that it comes from a place of gratitude, and it should follow these steps:

  • Recognize a positive action, task, or behaviour.
  • Approach the person or group first and thank them specifically for a job well done.
  • Explain why it was good and explain the positive impact it had.
  • It may be appropriate to share that praise with the wider group but always get the permission of the person / people you are praising.

The key thing is it must be genuine.

Praise should come from a position of gratitude.

An effective apology is subjective based on the motivation.

If your only aim is to seek forgiveness from the other party, then its effectiveness is measured by the external outcome, i.e., did they forgive you or not.

If your aim is to take responsibility for your wrongdoing, whether it was intentional or not, then your apology is an internal measure, i.e., do you feel better after giving the apology?

An effective apology consists of:

  • Accepting something you were responsible for that negatively impacted someone else.
  • Understanding and empathizing the impact your wrongdoing had on the other person.
  • Genuinely tell the person you're sorry and why.
  • Ask how you can move the situation forward (if appropriate).
  • From this you can aim to learn from the experience and adopt new and better practices.

Common Theme

What do these bits of wisdom and advice about effective praise and apologies have in common?

Several themes run true:

  • Don't delay. Give praise when it is earned, and give your apology right away.
  • Be specific. Nail down why you are recognizing the other person's accomplishment and hone in on why you are apologizing.
  • Above all, be genuine. Mean it. Half-hearted praise or apologies are worthless at best, and can potentially make matters worse.

Recommended Reading:

[1] Recognition Rebooted, by Sam Jenniges

Go to to learn more about the CVI or to take the Core Values Index assessment.

Employees hired with a CVI that closely matches a Top Performer Profile often outperform candidates hired without a TPP match by 200% or more. → Learn more

Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in information technology, software development, and project management spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing he is an aspiring multi-instrumentalist and composer, a virtual pilot in a home-built flight simulator, and a cyclist.

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