I HAVE expended considerable time telling people how to take the sting out of criticism and how to make their criticism of subordinates have a lasting impact. I have discussed the subtle ways people ignore, deny, deflect or accept criticism. I have talked about the finesse points of effective criticism, that is, how to time it perfectly, when to make it personal and when to keep it strictly business, how to make employees think you are doing them a favour, and so on. But I have never discussed the art of handing out praise. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that there should not be a lot to say about praise. It does not take a genius to laud someone's achievements or to realise that doing so always has a positive effect. And yet the world is filled with otherwise bright people who are absolute dolts at delivering praise. They do not know when to do it. They do it grudgingly. They do it in the wrong forum. They do not do it often enough. And if they do it, they ruin the effect by following it up with criticism. The truth is, when it comes to singing other people's praises, few of us are opera stars. All of us could use voice lessons. Some thoughts on how to start out: What's your criticism-in-praise rattle? Over the years I have known many executives who take more pleasure in firing an employee than in telling a colleague or subordinate they are doing a great job. Perhaps delivering praise is a psychological hurdle they cannot jump. They regard praise as a zero-sum game. They think there are only so many kind words to go around and that praising someone takes the spotlight off them and somehow diminishes them. Actually, it has the opposite effect. Praising someone elevates you in that person's eyes. Think how highly you thought of the last person who took the time to tell you what a good job you were doing. One mental exercise to get over this hurdle is what I call the criticism-to-praise ratio. For one week keep track of how many times you criticise and praise people. If you are handing out far more criticism than praise, you are doing something wrong - oryou need to hire new people! In my mind, I have always tried to maintain a one-to-one ratio of criticism to praise. If I see I am lashing out at employees far more often than I am patting them on the back, I try to reverse the imbalance. I go out of my way to hand out valid praise. It not only makes our people feel better, it makes me feel good, too. Are you in a praise-intensive business? Some businesses are praise-intensive, some are praise-resistant. Ray Cave, former managing editor of Time magazine, once said he was always conscious of how often, and to whom he handed out praise. In his job, he had no choice. Editing a weekly magazine was a marathon of value judgements. He was constantly having to decide whether the ideas, articles, photographs and layouts his people produced were good enough. As a result, he had to decide whether to praise or criticise his writers, photographers and artists. In that sense, magazine publishing is a praise-intensive field. Remembering to praise people was not a problem for Cave; it was a major responsibility. Other businesses do not make it so easy on a boss. They are praise-resistant. I can see how in our company a manager can get confused or forgetful about praise. When we sell a sponsorship to a sports event, it is usually the result of a team effort. Who deserves the applause for the success? The individual who thought up the event? The executive who set up the meeting? Or the salesperson who closed the deal? Or the staff people who implement the event and keep the sponsor happy? With so many people sharing the glory, it is not hard to see how a boss neglects to single out individuals for praise. Take a look at your company. If it is praise-intensive, are you handing out praise for maximum effect? If it is praise-resistant, are you handing it out at all? Praise is a great control mechanism. I once had a teacher who was a master of praise. She always encouraged me with kind words when I had the right answer in a class discussion and wrote effusive comments like ''Great job!!!'' on my quiz papers. It did not take me long to form a favourable impression. I thought she was a great teacher. After a few weeks of her adulation, there came a day when I was not prepared for class and failed a test. She chided me for my sloppy work. Although her criticism was not vicious, it stung me and I promised myself not to let it happen again. Only later did I realise her constant praise had made her an influential force in that classroom. I had become addicted to her high opinion of me. When she withheld that opinion, I worked even harder to win it back. There are two lessons for managers here. First, praise is addictive. People will always think more highly of you for thinking highly of them - and they will make an extraordinary effort to recapture that high opinion if and when you withhold it. Second, praise is a great control mechanism for managers. Criticism is much more potent if you have laid down a foundation of sincere praise. People who accept the nice things you say about them tend to be more receptive when your comments are not so nice. ''Praise: Pretend it's money.'' A wise executive once likened handing out praise to handing out money to his employees. ''I cannot always pay our people as much as I would like to, so I pretend that praise is money. Whenever I tell one of my people that they did a wonderful job,'' he said, ''it's like giving them a bonus. Sure, they cannot spend it on something nice. But they bank the praise in their mind - and they feel better about me and our company.'' That may be the most compelling argument for praise: It will help you hang on to talented people when money can't. Question: Expenses are out of control in several of our divisions. How do you contain costs without alarming the troops? Answer: Alarming the troops is precisely what you should be doing. How else are they going to believe there is a crisis? The life cycle of almost every company is a continuum of expansion and contraction. In the expansion mode, everything is great. The company is profitable and willing to invest in the future. In this optimistic environment, employees can get reckless about costs. They will buy new office equipment, add staff, travel and entertain more aggressively. It is usually a gradual process. For example, one executive acquires new office furniture. His peers see this and feel they are entitled to the same privilege. Before long, this snowballs into a company-wide redecoration. That is when you have to shift into contraction mode. Fast.