Is it Okay to say I'm Proud of You at the Office?

An executive coaching client was telling me about two great successes she had. I was so impressed with the effort she had put in that without thinking I said, “I’m so proud of you!”  As soon as the words left my mouth I realized that could be taken in a lot of ways, some of which are not positive. Fortunately, she responded with “Thank you!”  

The conversation got me thinking – Is it okay to say “I’m proud of you” to anyone other than close friends and family? I posed the question to my network; their responses where very enlightening:

Yes, it’s fine – 23% of responders said they tell others they are proud of them and enjoy hearing it from anyone. They mean it positively and believe it is said in a positive way.

No, it’s not okay – 43% of responders said that “I’m proud of you” suggests a level of intimacy, can be seen as pompous or that it suggests the person saying it believes they had something to do with the success or are in a position to pass judgment. They would be taken aback if a casual acquaintance said they were proud of them and they don’t say it to any other than close friends and family.

It depends – 31% of responders said they will say “I’m proud of you” when they helped the person in some way or if they were familiar with the situation and knew it had taken a lot of work and personal fortitude to achieve.  Teachers weighed in saying they often say it to students.  This group had mixed feelings about how they felt when someone said it to them, but most thought it was positive to hear.

Not sure – 3% of responders said they said “I’m proud of you” to others and meant it to always be a positive thing. But when they considered it they realized it might not always be taken positively and therefore it might be better to say something else. Everyone in this group said they liked to hear it said to them.

My takeaways – After reading the many different ways that “I’m proud of you” can be heard, I started thinking about the people in my life. There are close friends and family who could say it to me and I would feel pleased. There are others who I have heard say it (in a group setting) and felt they were trying to take credit for my accomplishment. How I interpret the exact same four words depends on the relationship I have with the person saying them and the circumstance in which they are said.  Since how it is heard depends on the person hearing it, I think I am going to chose to say something else in my professional relationships.

Other options – “I’m impressed.” “You must be very proud.” “That is impressive.” “Good for you!” “I’m happy for you.” “I admire that.” “Well done!” “Congratulations!”

Bottom line – Saying “I’m proud of you” to someone other than close friends and family could be a bit of a mine field. It is wisest to choose a different way to express that you are excited to hear about an accomplishment.  However, if someone says “I’m proud of you” to you, take the high road and assume they mean it in the best possible way.

What do you think? Is “I’m proud of you” okay to say in a work environment? Scroll down and share your thoughts in the comments

As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!

Doc Robyn

PS – My sincerest thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts, stories and experience on what it means to say and hear “I’m proud of you” and making this post possible.

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known conflict resolution expert, motivational speaker, executive coach and corporate trainer.  As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence in all aspects of life through active leadership, powerful teamwork, effective communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills.  She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time.  To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, email her at DocRobyn@ChampPerformance.com or call 302-307-3091.

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