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29 Nov 2010

Inadequacies of the Generic “Good Job” Compliment

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Strategic Complimenting

A commenter inquired why the “good job” compliment isn’t intrinsic since “doing that good job comes from inside a person (an experience, or a value); it’s not something that can be taken away.” There are three main reasons. They also serve to explain why the compliment, while acceptable, is inferior to other compliments.

First, “doing a good job” is different from the “desire to do a good job.” Performance exists outside of us, desire within. People perform well for many reasons beyond the desire to do a good job: money, recognition, promotion, peer pressure etc. For example, two children can read the same difficult book; however, there is a difference between the child who reads the book for a promised candy bar and the other child who reads it for the love of reading.

Second, the determination of a good job is subjective; it varies by the person establishing standards and evaluating outcomes against those standards. You can “take away” a good performance by simply using a different evaluator. For example, other teachers might not consider the above book’s difficulty worthy of compliments.

Third, the product of a good job can be erased. A good painting could be destroyed, a good program terminated, and a good sales year erased with the start of a new one. “What have you done for me lately,” exemplifies the negation of performances. In the above example, the child’s reading of the difficult book might elevate his grade this period but won’t for the next one. However, the love of reading continues on.

Yes, the “good job” compliment is adequate. However, “Reading that book shows that you have a natural love for reading,” is far better. Again, it’s because we are complimenting a quality of the person (intrinsic) versus an outcome (extrinsic).

Series Navigation<< Strategic Complimenting (Pt 2): Six ExpectationsComplimenting with These Two Words is Powerful >>

6 Responses

  1. I really like the last paragraph here as it gives the most clear explanation of all. I will think carefully about this next time I want to tell someone I’m pleased with their work!

  2. Jeannette Marshall

    GREAT post! I get where you’re coming from. Although giving positive feedback is behind stating “good job” … it will gain more value or be more receptive if you adjust by being more specific. A terrific reminder on how we can take something more generic and personalize it.

  3. Tim Bates

    If people are reading because they love it, they don’t need you to tell them. But we audio like being recognized: that’s why (I predict… Let’s test it) “good job” is a more effective complement than “that shows you love reading”. Data please 🙂

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you for your comment, Tim.

      First, I disagree. We do need to tell others they enjoy reading for the love it. It’s a form of appreciating their talents. People like to have their talents acknowledged, and it helps to build strong relationships. As for those who don’t read for the love of it, we can help them to do so.

      Second, I already have more empirical evidence than I need to demonstrate that we can vastly improve upon the typical “good job” comment. I will grant you though that many people don’t even say that. Yes, it can be effective, but we can improve upon it easily. I have tested these through trial and err and share them because people have often wondered how I get the results I do from people.

      Third, as for data, I don’t need data to show that my suitcase can fit on a cruise ship. I can see that by observation and doing a trial run. That is the basis of my methods. If you don’t like them, then don’t believe me. I make it very clear in the mission statement of my blog. Even methods strongly supported by data I do not advocate unless I’ve personally tested them or have personally observed their success. I have found that heavy reliance upon data as proof hinders innovation and restricts creative problem solving. Many worthwhile things have no data to support them such as love for your family, spouse and friends as well as the effect of good leadership.

      So, if you don’t like how I support my methods, don’t use them. Just please don’t expect me to slow down my progress because you want me to take time out and count something for you, unless of course you are willing to pay me handsomely to do so. Then of course I welcome negotiating that! 🙂 Thank for your comments and visit, Tim.

      Take care,

  4. “Good Job” these two words are great to appreciate someone’s work. Many people use this term in negative sense(like ignore someone’s effort by saying only good job) but many use it in positive sense for real appreciation. You have give collective summary of “GOOD JOB” and i would say that you have done “Good Job!” Keep it up!

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, for the compliment. I compliment you on your humor and sense of irony. Yes, you are right, many people dispense with “good jobs” as though they are saying “hi.” Many others are sincere. I originally thought about this when an employee noted that a manager always said “good job” whether he seemed to mean or not. Heck, even a “great job” or “super job” is better than “good job.” Thank you for visiting. Take care, ~Mike

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