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I run an online community with about 8 dedicated Officers that run most of the community. One of the areas they continually point out is a weak spot for me is giving praise or encouragement.

I've tried to improve on this, but it just doesn't come natural to me. Most of the time, it just comes across feeling forced or disingenuous even when I really am grateful for the work they put into the community. I try to say "Thank you" as often as possible, but that doesn't seem to be helping.

How can I improve on this without it just becoming repetitive?

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A principle that applies in volunteer communities, online, and in the workplace is: be specific. Saying "thanks" is nice -- and if you can't do anything more, at least do that -- but as you've noted, it doesn't seem to have as much impact as you were hoping. That's because "thanks", without any other elaboration, can feel formulaic. It's easy; you don't really have to think about it. Some people will hear it as pro-forma, not heartfelt.

On the other hand, I have seen both volunteers and employees delight in specific praise. Things like:

  • "You did a great job de-escalating that tense chat exchange."
  • "Thank you for dedicating so much time here. In this last month you've handled over a thousand flags!"
  • "We got a really nice letter from such-and-such client praising your work on our newsletter."
  • So-and-so (junior team member) looks up to you as a mentor."

I'm a moderator on Stack Exchange and have been a leader in my congregation in the past (board member, committee chair, that kind of thing). The thanks that have meant the most to me were the ones that came with enough elaboration to show that the person saying "thank you" actually had some clue what I did for the organization. I've seen that reaction in fellow volunteers both online and in physical communities.

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Think of how you've received praise in your work and what specifically made it meaningful to you. As you've noted, thank yous can become redundant after a while and people tend to expect them to the point that they gloss over them.

The most meaningful praise I've ever received has been very specific, and if i were you I would try to show how they've helped.

It might seem simple, but if you're really stuck, just saying "you know I really apprentice all the work you've done" can be enough, and the fact that you've gone beyond just saying thank you will likely be well received.

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