True praise roots and spreads.

George Herbert, “Proverbs” in The Complete English Works, 276.

The first word is critical: True

The difference between affirmation and flattery is motive and authenticity. A flatterer is not so much interested in the truth as they are in trying to improve their own reputations.

Someone who seeks to affirm, rather, is genuinely interested in giving credit where credit is due, without selfishly trying to enhance their own reputation. It’s a fine line (between praise and flattery)–not always discernible. But if you find yourself lying in your praise, calling something “good” that you actually think is bad–this is flattery.

We shouldn’t fear it too much, though. People need encouragement.

Once we are relatively sure our praise is genuine and true–coming from a place of thanksgiving and kindness, we should say it–or write it. People need encouragement.

This saying notes that true praise “roots and spreads.” A couple of ways to take this: (1) A good word can become a permanent memory–and spread throughout our relationship with the encourager. It can also strengthen us to spread the praise by paying it forward. Someone who has been encouraged is more likely to encourage someone else who needs it.

(2) Encouragement can also spread as a sort of anti-gossip. Leaders know that a word of praise spoken about someone who is not present will eventually get back around to that person through the grapevine. I like to call it “greasing the system.” You can almost guarantee that your good word will get repeated. I notice it instantly when I’m around people who do this–and take note that they have a leadership bias. Either by intuition or training, they are doing their part to spread goodwill throughout the culture of an organization.