People-Skills Morale: Proud or Impressed?

As The People-Skills Coach, I often write posts on improving communication with just one word. The post, The Perfect Apology and the ONE Word That Destroys It, has helped thousands to improve their people-skills for tough moments.

Today I touch on a not so obvious one word change that makes a big difference.   The next time you think of saying,  “I am proud of you”, ask yourself if impressed would be a better word.

People-Skills: Words to Foster Morale

The Story.
A friend of mine hired a consultant to give her some technical coaching on how to use Facebook. Twice in their very first session, the consultant said “I am proud of you”. My friend told me she thought the consultant was about to put a little gold star on her forehead the way they did in grammar school.

When I stopped laughing, I felt compelled to write this post on the difference between I am proud of you vs. I am impressed.

Proud works with:

  1. Your children
  2. Your town’s sports teams
  3. Your state’s or town’s recovery from disaster
  4. Your country (e.g. our troops)
  5. Your mutual success (leaders, teammates, family members)

The common element is mutual involvement and success.

Time is also a factor. If the consultant had been working with my friend for a long time and knew my friend well, “I am proud of you” could work.  Said too soon in a work relationship, it suggests a familiarity and hierarchy that sounds patronizing.

Leaders, take note.  Your title and position don’t guarantee success.  If you have established a bond, “I am proud of you” can deliver a very special message and boost morale.  If you say it to your teams without first getting to know them, the statement may fizzle like a wet firecracker.

On the other hand, “I am so impressed with …” or “I am proud to know you” communicates recognition of the person’s efforts while showing respect for their independence and individuality.  Parents — this works well with teenagers and your adult children!

When I teach, coach, or team build, I remark about my clients’ breakthroughs and strides in this way.  It acknowledges their accomplishments and avoids the patronizing pitfalls of  “I am proud of you”.

From my experience to your success,

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. For permission to re-post or republish, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal and professional success. 21 years and still innovating, Kate delivers workshops, DVDs, and consultations that take you and your teams from good/great to unstoppable. See this site for more info.

17 Responses to “People-Skills Morale: Proud or Impressed?”

  1. Michael Hill says:

    Hi Kate

    A very useful tool.

    I think this also works wonderfully in the Consumer 2 Business context – when praising a company I will often use the a version of “I am impressed” such as “I was so impressed with your agent today…” or “I am really impressed with the quality of your new product”. Of course, I might also use this in the complaints context – “I am unimpressed with the time taken to deal with this issue” or I really an unimpressed with the attitude displayed to me by …”. I can’t imagine using the pride approach for either of these situations. But would we use in our language when speaking to a customer? Certainly, we would use “We are very impressed with the idea you suggested…” but we shouldn’t use – but I’ve seen it(!) – “We are unimpressed with your complaint…”.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Great insights relating to the customer Michael. As for “we are unimpressed with your complaint” — it is utterly ridiculous, rude, and business suicide.
      Never heard or seen that one! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Liz Weber says:

    Great insight Kate and good advice I’ll use & share with my clients. I completely understand your friend’s perspective on feeling as if you’re being treated as a child versus an adult. Kudos again!

  3. Anne Egros says:

    Hi Kate,
    Good story as always! I laughed too, especially it reminds me my first contact with pre-schooler parents in the US (Atlanta). I was so amused as a French by over-praising moms with plenty of “I am proud of you”, “Good job”, “Fantastic” superlatives when it was nothing special to encourage! Acknowledgment is an art and it should really make the recipient feel good not you ! Kate, you are able to make people think better by sharing your insights in a direct and smart way. People who work with you are lucky ! Have a great day .

  4. Jim Morgan says:

    Quite right, as usual, Kate. The psychology behind this one is amusing to me. What most people in the working world know, subconsciously at least, is that the manager-employee dynamic is nearly identical to the parent-child dynamic. The parallels in best practices and dysfunctions alike are nearly 1:1.

    For some reason, no one wants to admit this out loud. But whenever I say it in one of my classes, the knowing laughs and vigorous nodding tell me it is not news to anyone. I have not researched this phenomenon, so I don’t know why we don’t want to think about the similarities. Regardless, my guess is the “proud of” line you mention makes this open secret *too* open.

    That said, I have to add my gold star story, from prior to the personal computer. A secretary had to enter everybody’s time from handwritten time-cards. Because most people didn’t turn them in on time, she had to stay late every week. One week, out of frustration, she put a gold star from a sheet she had bought for her young daughter’s school on the new blank time card of an employee who turned theirs in on time. The new cards went into “in-boxes” on people’s office doors. Somebody noticed and asked why that person got a gold star. The next week several more people turned their cards in on time, and got gold stars as well.

    Guess what happened within three weeks.

  5. Thank you for the insight, Kate. It’s so important to recognize the accomplishments of others. The world would be a much better place if we all made a point of doing just that. So, as for your article, I’m impressed! Have a wonderful day.

    Resourcefully Yours,

  6. Hi Kate. This post falls under the category of “I never thought of that.” The last thing that I want to do is to commend someone for a great job well done and insult them in the process. I also agree with Kris’s comment above. The world would be a better place if we spent more time saying thanks. Well done Kate : -)

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Glad to know that the post delivers an aha moment. I love it when I learn something that “I never thought of before” and in a quick way makes me a better communicator. And I too agree with Kris that more thank yous and positive moments benefit the world.
      Thanks Frank.

  7. Gary Loper says:

    Great Topic Kate,
    Actually I can see where both statements could be demeaning. The tonality in the proud statement could sound like ‘I did not expect that you would have learned, known that’. Your points about establishing a connection and applying the Platinum Rule. Everyone is motivated, but not all the same thing motivates everyone. Find out how they would like to be recognized and feed them what they want. By taking a little extra time and effort to notice their response to our statements is a great place to start or even better — ask them how they best feel rewarded or appreciated.
    I have used Tamara Lowe’s DNA motivation test in many situations to better access what would be the best way to connect with a client or prospect. scroll down to find the Free DNA motivation assessment test. You will learn a lot about yourself and how to read your team and client better.

  8. Laura Hunter says:

    Hi Kate,
    I agree with you completely.
    I think the last person who said such a thing to me was my Dad – and that was the last time I expected to hear it as I reached my adult years. This is not a statement that demonstrates respect for a professional colleague. To me it sounds paternalistic, more than a bit condescending and a way to establish ones’s superiority. I believe it is much more respectful and professional to tell a colleague that you are impressed with their skills or performance.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Many thanks Laura for your personal story. This post seems to be touching people’s diverse experiences and as a result we all learn. I appreciate your time and willingness to share.

      Have a super day.

  9. Kate,
    Excellent post. I would add that not only is “what you say” important when recognizing performance, but how you say it. Some people adore public recognition and praise while others are borderline mortified by it. These folks are thrilled with a personal “I’m impressed!”
    Always enjoy what you have to share!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Lee, thanks for the reminder that recognition is also about the “where” as well as the “how”. Recently, I found a way to give public recognition to those who are generally “mortified” by it. Tone of voice and facial expression make the difference. Hmm… perhaps a video blog post on that word work. What do you think? 🙂

  10. Tish says:

    I agree that words hold lots of power — but it’s situational and personal. To give an example, I once had a boss say, “I’m impressed” to me and I was insulted. There was an element of surprise held in the way he said the words — he had not praised me at all; he had just revealed what low expectations he had for me and how little he knew about me.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Oh so true Tish. Tone of voice can change everything as well as the kind of relationship between the two people. Great clarity you’ve added here and I appreciate it. I have known you for a long time and value your perspective.

  11. Anita says:

    I was annoyed too when a distant relative visited my new apartment a couple of weeks ago, and when her husband complimented me on my apartment, this female kept saying, “I am very proud”. I found this condescending,
    a) As she is not my parent to feel proud of me.
    b) I hardly see her except annually around Christmas
    c) She is a generally ….well, a jealous type of person who tries to say negative things in a sugar coated sort of way.
    d) She tries to make out that she is an important figure in my life, when she is not really.
    e) Her statement sounds like she shares a part of my accomplishment, but she really does not!!

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