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Haiku in the Workplace: The Praise of Peers

Praise has long been one of management’s most important tools. You don’t even have to mean it for it to work, and it costs nearly nothing. What’s not to like?

Machiavelli knew
praise is just a weapon —
in our armoury
	[David Dayson]

Not only is praise cost-effective, it can also boost production.

a left hand pats
your back while the right one —
gives you more
	[David Dayson]

The only negative to management’s use of praise is that it is easily seen through.

if only we could
turn the other cheek to —
backhanded praise
	[David Dayson]

But, of course, that’s up to us, and if we’re susceptible to praise in the first place, enlightenment may come as something of a disappointment:

vanity’s bubble 
pricked —
by faint praise
	[David Dayson]

So it is the praise of peers we most value, as our colleagues know the true value of one’s work and character, charged as they are with the same challenges (and ownership):

Management’s soft soap
rinsed by clean waters of praise
from one’s good colleagues.
	[John Lock]

My three choices this week all chronicle the discernment of the manipulative aspects of praise. They are all mordant, but in their very wit they suggest a resiliency that mere flattery will never breach. All reside firmly in the realm of senryu, that close cousin to haiku that focuses on the vagaries of human behavior, often with just this trenchant sense of humor.

My third choice is tellingly observant:

praising your bonus
a smile around their mouth —
but not the eyes
	[David Dayson]

Specialists in facial characteristics (that is, human lie detectors) tell us that true smiles — smiles arising from actual pleasure and delight — involve the eye muscles, and that false smiles do not. Our poet is not deceived by the “hail fellow well met” attitude of his colleagues, suspecting perhaps a deeper and more basic emotion: envy.

Second prize this week goes to this terse nugget:

peer praising
the economy
of handshake
	[Ernesto Santiago]

Is this cynical or simply realistic? It’s hard to say, but it seems quite true to life, either way. I like the economy of dispensing with the article we might expect before the final noun, and also the parsimony of making that final noun singular. Nicely gauged.

Top winner this week is this piece of deflation, which leaves no doubt as to its cynicism:

congratulations —
you are reappointed 
to your old job
	[David Dayson]

One of the hallmarks of both haiku and senryu is its ability, in the three-line format, of providing a surprise (not always humorous) in the ultimate line. While “reappointed” shades us in its direction, the third line here is as unexpected as it seems inevitable once we’ve read it through. What is more demeaning than being congratulated for staying in the same place? And to be expected to suffer it with gladness? And yet the tone of the poem is jaunty, as though these slings and arrows will be insufficient to humiliate this person. That’s a testament to actual self-esteem, and that’s much better than any praise, even the praise of peers.

New Poems

kaffeeklatsch —
a colleague reheats 
words of praise
     — Roberta Beary
Rebecca’s apparel
the praise I deserve
lost in the seams
     — Celestine Nudanu
three-sixty feedback:
Just a workplace synonym
— for Stockholm Syndrome
     — Topher Dykes
well done — and ahead of deadline too, snail
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
before asking me
to work his hours
the co-worker’s praise
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
congratulations —
raising the glasses
eyes full of admiration
     — Doris Pascolo
got a pay rise!
the eager praises of peers
in the pub
     — Marta Chocilowska
roiling clouds
the pharmacopoeia
of each smile
     — Betty Shropshire
the bottle of merlot
more valued
than any phrase of praise
     — Mark Gilbert
wooden idol
sagging belly comic smile
unspoken praise
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
An envious peer
ironically says to me:
how good you are!
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
unsigned notes of praise
the boss says
not me
     — Pat Davis
office meeting
someone’s imitating
my report
     — Willie Bongcaron
unexpected praise —
all peers consider it
my last day
     — Hifsa Ashraf
note of gratitude
her offer to relieve me
of one recess duty
     — Marilyn Appl Walker
collective praise
collective stab lurks somewhere
innocent victim
     — S. Radhamani
peer recognition
a colleague forgets 
my name
     — Marion Clarke
job well done
scrawled in the dirt on
my rear windshield
     — Michael Henry Lee
pub drinks 
the celebrations
on office account
     — Madhuri Pillai
I leave the flock —
face new challenges
collecting praise
     — Angela Giordano
my birthday
everyone cheers
except the boss
     — Christine Eales
with just a nod
he praises my design
     — Shandon Land
praise the saw and the chair legs
     — Adrian Bouter
a colleague’s praise
then mom’s voice echoes
don’t get a big head
     — Peggy Bilbro
matrioske peers . . .  
how many faces 
I know never
come matrioske —
quanti volti ci sono
è da scoprire
     — Lucia Cardillo
peer approval
cover masks 
     — Olivier Schopfer
the praise of peers —
now  her self-image changes
her appearance
     — Tomislav Maretic
letter of recommendation
mispelings and typos
     — Ron Scully
we give him a prize
for making a splash —
year of the frog
     — Martha Magenta
while applauding my award
his eyes call me
     — Gail Oare
praise of peers
the flutter of poplar leaves
in the breeze
     — Michael Stinson
retirement party
sincere words 
for the best teacher
     — Carmen Sterba
sushi bar party
colleagues’ enthusiasm
is contagious
     — Elisa Allo
suck it up
he didn’t fire you
or ask you to take a knee
     — Tricia Knoll
employee of the month
                       a lunch invitation
                                          at the avant-garde bar
in a borrowed dress
                           the fish
                                               boot licker
hands on manager
                  in the breakroom microwave
                                             as the crow flies
     — princess k
my colleague 
praising me —
end of weekend
     — Ana Drobot
midnight calm 
one by one my cheer squad 
turns home
     — Alegria Imperial
he tells me I’m cute
I hint I’m from the fraud squad
keeping his distance
     — Karen Harvey
the Oscar’s gleam 
the applause of one’s peers 
     — Karen Conrads Wibell
end of year praisesong —
the chorus loudest at
the social loafers’ end
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

Next Week’s Theme: Miscommunication

Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!

kacian_jimFrom October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contemporary practice, or perhaps one of your own, which you might even write for the occasion. The best of these will be appended to the column. First published 2 February 2016.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for including my troiku along with these other gems, however, the poem is not displaying correctly. Here is the text of the poem:

    employee of the month
    a lunch invitation
    at the avant-garde bar

    employee of the month
    in a borrowed dress
    hands on manager

    a lunch invitation
    the fish
    in the breakroom microwave

    at the avant-garde bar
    boot licker
    as the crow flies

  2. Dear esteemed poet,
    How ‘praise’ is viewed in different approaches and at different situations!
    Going through each and every write . Above all the introductory notes are really set in tune.
    with regards

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