The human brain.
The Grand Canyon.
Any of the world’s oceans.
The things above deserve to be described as, “awesome.” They fit the definition and spirit of the word. Here’s one generally agreed upon definition of “awesome.”
When you stand at the edge of the ocean or the Grand Canyon, you can’t help but feel awe. It overtakes you; as does a night sky filled with stars. And how about your brain? The more we learn about the human brain, the more it evokes reverence from scientists and non-scientists alike.
We should reserve the word “awesome” for moments of overwhelming admiration. If you agree, then it’s not a word we should hear or say all that often. For example, a well-run meeting, a timely report, or an inventive solution to a problem is not a good candidate for the word. Unfortunately, though, the word is now used (and overused) to compliment small and medium-sized achievements.
In case you think I’m being stingy about compliments or picky about word choice, there is also a strategic reason you should avoid the word. Using the word “awesome” to compliment can send the wrong message about the quality of an achievement. It can also disempower the need to improve.
If an achievement is “awesome” it’s pretty tough to make it better. I mean where do you go from “awesome?” Really Awesome!? And of course, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Along with overusing the word awesome, we also overuse words that end in “y” or “ly.” Words like, very, extremely, really, and absolutely to name a few.
Overstating praise for achievement is as damaging as withholding appropriate praise. Overstating praise tells the receiver that “her work is done.” There is no need to strive to make the achievement better. Think about it: if an achievement is in the same league as the Grand Canyon, why would we mess with it?
If your goal is to increase an individuals (or tribes) ingenuity, productivity, and/or effectiveness, then remove the word awesome from your vocabulary. Ditch the “ly” modifiers too. Use words that convey appropriate recognition and still leave room to grow. People are more engaged when they recognize progress and simultaneously see the need for improvement.
Maybe you’re wondering if any human achievement is “awesome.” I tend to think it’s possible but rare. The designation should be reserved for either unparalleled achievements of brilliance or unparalleled excellence demonstrated over a lifetime.
When praise for an achievement is warranted give it. But be mindful of your words. Broaden and sharpen your vocabulary so you have more words at the ready. Use words that fit the accomplishment and ignite the receiver to do even better next time.