Examples of Poor Project Management - Overusing Positive Words

Have you ever encountered project managers or peers, abusing positive words such as: brilliant, great, super or even awesome? Unfortunately I did encounter them in quite a number of occasions. Also, at some point in my project management career, I was guilty of overusing such words for a period of time. Once I managed to internalize the effect this behavior had on the effectiveness of the project and the project team, I stopped and changed my approach. In this article I would like to discuss why project managers overuse positive words, the negative effects of this behavior and what we could do to identify whether we have this weakness in our project management approach.

Why Do Project Managers Overuse Positive Words

I often thought about the reasons why project managers abuse positive words. Also, I paid attention to the people who overused positive words during the projects I worked on (both as project team member and project manager). The irony of my observations is that they always overused them simply to create a positive and trusting relationship within their teams. Their aim was never to annoy their peers but to create a good working relationship or to improve an existing relationship which might have not worked so well.

Now that we know the motivation behind the overuse of positive words, let us see when project managers are most likely to fall into this trap:

  • Junior in Project Management - the project manager does not have a lot of expertise in project management and wants to build a positive working relationship with the project team. The main goal is to become liked and trusted as fast as possible, so that he or she bonds with the team and has a productive relationship.
  • New & diverse project team - the project manager is assigned to a completely new project team with a very different working style compared to the previous teams he or she worked with. Therefore, in order to be liked and trusted, he or she tries to create a positive working relationship by (over)using positive words.
  • Overwhelming challenges - the project manager is overwhelmed by the project he or she is leading and needs the team to help clarify what needs to be done. The overuse of positive words comes as a result of his/her inability to truly coordinate the team and the wish to encourage the team to get more involved and lead more the execution of the project.
  • Cultural norms - the overuse of positive words can be also a result of cultural norms for the country or region where the project manager belongs. If we are to generalize, Americans tend to be more lavish in their praise compared to the English who, in turn, are more lavish than Romanians. Even between regions of the same country, the cultural norms differ. For example, people who live in the northern parts of Romania tend to be more lavish in praise than the ones from the south. Norms also differ based on the relative place you have in the structure of society or based on the professional branch you work in.
  • Personality - it can also happen that the project manager overusing positive words has a rather unassertive personality. He or she has a fear of offending others and tries to always keep the atmosphere in the project team upbeat.

Embraced by Words

Overuse of Positive Words Leads to Malfunctioning Teams

We’ve talked about the reasons behind the overuse of positive words. Let’s see what kind of effect it can have on your projects and performance as a project manager:

  • Transforms appreciation into something mundane - mundane can be translated as: everyday, ordinary, or banal. Praise which happens every day for almost any reason is no longer praise. It is only something mundane, without anything special or unique about it.
  • Impedes you from rewarding top performers - you cannot use other positive words/expressions to appreciate great work and motivate top performers. What else can you say except “brilliant, great, super or awesome”? Moreover, you have already overused these words and rendered them useless. Why would your top performers feel motivated about hearing mundane words?
  • Diminishes your impact as a Project Manager - overusing positive words might not destroy your project but it will surely hurt it in some way, depending on the context. First, your top performers will no longer feel motivated to work on the project, and won’t feel appreciated simply because any action done on time by a team member is worthy of praise. If average performance is praised, then why should they do more or do better? In addition, being endlessly appreciative with your project team makes them take you less seriously. They won’t believe any praise you bring and simply care less about what you say and the project itself. As you might have already figured out, this can lead to failed projects.

You Can Identify it by Yourself & STOP!

The good news is that, evaluating yourself on the overuse positive words is quite simple. You can ask for feedback from the project team or from the project team members with whom you have a closer relationship. Alternatively, if this does not help, you can simply record yourself: use a voice recorder for face-to-face meetings or the recording features of the phone conferencing service you are using when “meeting” with your geographically spread project team.

Analyze the way you are communicating with the project team and count how many times you have used positive words of appreciation and the behaviors/activities/results you rewarded by using them. If you appreciated mostly unimportant, standard behaviors/activities or results, then you should consider to stop doing so. Become more conscious of the way you speak, and replace “brilliant, great, super or awesome” with a simple “Thank You!”.

Big words of praise should be used to reward top performance not ordinary, expected behaviors/activities or results. Otherwise, they simply lose their power and fail to meet their objective.

Conclusion

This whole article is based on personal experience and observation of self and of others. I honestly believe that overusing positive words, especially when you are a project manager, can only lead to failed projects or at least “not so effective” projects. I would like to know if you have been through similar experiences and what effect that had on the effectiveness of the teams and projects involved. Therefore, don’t hesitate to share using the comment form below.

Related content:

Examples of Poor Project Management - Mistaking E-mail for Communication
Examples of Poor Project Management - Not Seeing the Woods for the Trees
Examples of Poor Project Management - How Not to Involve Your Project Board & Stakeholders
Examples of Poor Project Management - Introducing an Intermediary between the Project Manager and the Client

Comments

I only somewhat agree with you. Overuse of anything is bad, that's true, yet, I find it always more efficient to praise, using good words, than to keep my words of praise only for those who, in my mind, deserve it. My approach is to praise that 1 good thing a coworker / team member did, and kind of point out the 99 things he could of done better. I find it more efficient. Plus, in some cases it doesn't seem to hurt to use and abuse big words, check out Steve Jobs here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZS8HqOGTbA

Just as using .99 instead of rounding up works for pricing - using positive words actually works for casting a positive perspective onto something.

I agree it's really annoying - but that's just how it is.

What a great article on words of appreciation. It brings up a good question about when and how to use these words. I believe it is important to continuously appreciate your staff. Sometimes these comments can become mundane but I choose to look at this as a challenge to be more specific in my praise. We can all benefit from being recognized for what we offer to the team.

It was great that you are sharing your knowledge with others here.

To your magnificence!
Andrea Woolf
Founder, Ignite Your Life Book
Co-Founder, Wake Up Abundant
Ambassador of Manifest Money, HowtoLiveonPurpose.com