Note: This is another blog-inated version of a chapter from a book I’ve been writing. The working title for this book is “AFOG: Another F***ing Opportunity for Growth.”
So here’s another lesson I keep learning over and over again. People just don’t hear enough praise.
Most people I’ve encountered seem to concentrate most of their energy on the negative. They notice what’s wrong, in themselves, in others, and in their environment. And that makes sense, on lots of levels. “If you fix this, things will improve.” That might seem like the most effective way to survive and succeed.
Noticing and naming mistakes and flaws — with no recognition of the positive — can be effective…
….. if you’re running a factory of machines.
So you see my point here. We’re not machines. And with people, a constant focus on what’s not working can backfire. It can have the opposite effect. Too much emphasis on mistakes and criticism — without a balance of positive acknowledgement — can deplete people and make it harder for them to do well.
So here’s my proposal. Let’s do what we can to try to restore some balance here. If you find yourself authentically thinking or feeling something positive about somebody, tell them. I’m willing to guarantee something: They’re not hearing enough of that. And on some level, they’ll like it. They might feel uncomfortable, especially if it feels unfamiliar, but that’s a discomfort that’s important to face.
When I work with people, one thing I often ask them in a first interview is how they feel about praise. (This is important to ask, because I will probably be giving them some honest feedback, which will definitely include some positive observations.) I often hear this response: “I’m not good with praise.” But nobody has ever said to me anything like, “Whatever you do, don’t give me any authentic positive feedback.”
So I do offer that when I can. Because, really, what’s more therapeutic than that?
One of my Therapy Heroes is Michael White. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
I got to see Michael White speak. It was wonderful. And I remember him inviting the audience to do what I’m writing about here. I wish I could remember his language, because he was a terrific speaker. The way I remember what he said is this: If you are thinking something positive about somebody, let that person know. Don’t assume that they know. It’s a helpful thing to do, for you and for the other person.
And I remember taking that in and wanting to apply it, that very day. I remember waiting in line to tell Michael White how wonderful I thought his theories were, how much I loved using narrative therapy with my patients, how much I had enjoyed his talk, and so on.
Strangely enough, I can’t remember whether I ever got to tell him. it’s possible I did. It’s possible that I couldn’t, because so many people were waiting to talk to him, that I didn’t get a chance.
But what is important is that I heard him and it changed me. I decided that day to express authentic positive thoughts when I had the opportunity.
So, at work, if somebody tells me something positive about somebody else and expresses appreciation for what they’ve done, I make it a habit to pass that on directly to the person. I’ll write an e-mail to somebody and say, “I just heard so-and-so say this particular thing about you, and I just wanted to let you know.” I don’t know how other people take that. Maybe they think I’m trying to suck up to them. Maybe they think I’m sickeningly sweet. Who knows.
I don’t care. I’m honoring Michael White and my own value system. And I’ll do that whenever I can.
Thanks for reading.
© 2013 Ann Koplow