Give Eulogies at Work

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 5a
September 1, 2016

By Dan Coughlin

A few weeks ago my cousin, Ellen, passed away. I was asked to give her eulogy. It was the third eulogy I’ve given since 2009, and so I’ve developed a rule of thumb when it comes to giving a eulogy. It simply says, “All positives, no negatives.”

A eulogy is a time for pure praise. In five to eight minutes or so highlight as many positives and strengths and meaningful stories as you can about the person and deliver them with great passion and enthusiasm.

Don’t gloss over negatives. Completely ignore the negatives. Let go of any gripes or criticisms or old stories that are damaging to the person’s reputation. Just go positive all the way. It feels good to talk this way about an important person in your life, and other people appreciate hearing these things. They have to be true things, but just leave out anything negative or critical.

Saving It for the Last Night

My daughter, Sarah, has gone on a High School Mission Trip the last three summers. The students work hard all year to raise money, and then they spend eight days traveling back and forth and working in a poor area of the U.S. Her favorite moment is on Thursday night, the last night at the location. All the students and adults get in a big circle, and they put the seniors one at a time in the middle of the circle. And then all of the other people can say anything positive they want to about that senior. This process literally goes on for hours until everyone has said every nice thing they want to say about every senior. As you might imagine, there are a lot of tears shed.

Give the Employee Pure Positives

Why do we wait until someone’s dead or until the last night of the last trip or a person’s retirement party before we pour out the positives? Why do we squeeze in a few positives and a few negatives at the Annual Performance Review, but we’re inclined not to just focus on positives during the many, many days that the person is working at his or her job?

Here’s what I suggest.

Think of an employee and write down the things you appreciate, admire, respect, and are proud of about him or her.

Call the employee into your office on a random day, and say, “Today I’m doing an Appreciation Review. I’m going to share with you what I appreciate about you, and your job is to just sit there and take it.”

Then you can say, “Here’s one thing I appreciate about you… Here’s another thing I appreciate about you…” You can even change the wording during the exercise to add on things like, “Here’s another thing I admire about you…” and “Here’s another thing I’m proud of you for…” and “Here’s another thing I respect about you…”

All positives, no negatives.

At the end of the five to eight minutes or even longer, hand the person your list of positives about him or her, and say, “Thanks for your time today. Now go back to work.”

Of course, don’t call it a eulogy, but it’s the same principle with a twist. Instead of waiting until the person’s last day, do it every year on a random day. This is NOT a performance review. This is an exercise in letting another person know what you appreciate, admire, respect, and are proud of about the person.

Public Praise as Well

You don’t have to do this in private. You can do a version of the last night on the Mission Trip. You can bring a work group together and say, “Today we’re going to do an Appreciation Exercise. We’re going to publicly talk about each other one at a time. We’re simply going to put one person at a time inside the circle, and then anyone can say any positive thing he or she wants to say about the person in terms of what you appreciate or admire or respect about the person. All positives, no negatives.” And then you can first on the first person to demonstrate what it looks like.


This may all sound too radical to consider. It may seem crazy to give another person pure positives and praise. Why is that so crazy? Is it because we never, ever do it? Are you concerned that the person might ask for a raise right there on the spot, or that he or she will throw these positives back in your face at review time? I encourage you to get over that.

We’re human beings. We want to hear positives. We don’t just want to wait until our eulogy or our retirement party or the last night of the last Mission Trip. It’s okay to say nice, truthful things about other people without having to balance it with negatives.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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