Event review: Building Relationships – Praise in the Workplace by Tihana Romanic

By Theresa Gorman

Backhanded compliment, damning with faint praise, complisults, sugarcoated hostility—Such expressions show that compliments and praise can be a tricky area of social intercourse to navigate. By highlighting the role of praise in building and maintaining professional relationships, Tihana Romanic convinced us that this is a worthwhile and interesting teaching point in any business English course.

Think of a compliment you paid recently. Who did you compliment and what did you say? With this opening paired conversation, we discovered a huge range of differences in our beliefs and habits around complimenting. This sparked insights about cultural, contextual, gender and hierarchical considerations when paying compliments, a discussion which alone could have filled 90 minutes, but Tihana had much more in store for us.

How to teach the art of paying compliments? Tihana identified 3 components to this art:

  • Be observant: of the cultural context, the individual’s personality, the situation, timing, dynamics like gender and hierarchy.
  • Be relevant: praise in the workplace should focus on a job well done or professional qualities
  • Be specific: about the act you are praising or the positive results of someone’s behavior.

It can be very effective to compliment an aspect of someone’s performance that they may not have noticed

Classroom activities and materials

We noted that there is a dearth of published resources on praise, while small talk, a similar area of professional relationship-building, is well covered. We then discussed the virtues, shortcomings and uses of the few available materials. Perhaps the best two were:

Validation by Kieran Donaghy, www.film-english.com. Students watch a video, work with adjectives and frames for compliments, then write a text.

How to pay a compliment, The British Council. Students watch a video in which a man showers his colleague with compliments, work with language in the video, then discuss issues around complimenting people in the workplace

Tihana’s own approach involved presenting learners with situations, such as a colleague replying quickly to an important email, getting students to generate adjectives to describe the colleague or behavior, then getting students to generate compliments that would suit the situation.

Learners can practice with frames, for example, that’s so + adjective of you.

Last but not least, Tihana also provided us a list of discussion questions and prompts which could be used as lead-in or revision activities. My favorites among these were:

  • In your opinion what is more important – constructive criticism or praise?
  • Describe a situation in which you would not feel comfortable receiving a compliment.
  • Would you like to receive more or fewer compliments from your colleagues?

Building Relationships – Praise in the Workplace, covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes. I believe we all left feeling confident and enthusiastic that we can help our learners use compliments and praise effectively in professional settings.