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Say it. Mean It.

Updated on October 29, 2012

Words matter.

One of the worst feelings is the feeling of abandonment. One of the most tragic is when folks are supportive, but don't say or show it.
One of the worst feelings is the feeling of abandonment. One of the most tragic is when folks are supportive, but don't say or show it. | Source

Constructive Praise

A few years ago, I worked for a wonderful, positive, forceful woman who taught me a lot about personal power and motivating people. One of the people who worked for her was also a Type A personality; in fact, I rarely saw her stand still. She was always at a 15 degree angle going forward. People - to her - were tools to be used to accomplish her goals. I remember thinking how markedly different these two Type A people were. As I watched them both in interactions with me and with other people, I began to see that the difference was not in the personality, but in the attitude they each had.

The second woman had this habit of saying, "Thanks" when people did something for her. She always said it the same way, "Thaa-anks!" in the same tone of voice, as if rehearsed because she had heard you can motivate people by appreciating their work. The problem was that she didn't really appreciate it; her goal was to motivate people to keep doing things for her.

Nobody wanted to do anything for her. She asked more and more of people who agreed to help her, but the response was always, "Thaa-anks!" And people would roll their eyes. She never figured it out.

My boss, on the other hand, didn't say "Thanks" very often. However, she DID motivate people to want to please her. She did this by what I can only term as "constructive praise."

An excellent communicator, she would describe what she liked and why she liked it. A typical word of praise from her would sound like, "That report for the Smythe file was clear and concise; it got straight to the point and let me know where I could get more information. It helped me answer the media's questions when it was 'crunch time.' Very useful."

And the person who wrote the report would come away knowing she'd done a good job, and want to keep doing a good job.

You see, she didn't praise in the traditional sense: "Excellent job!" I rarely heard her say that kind of thing. But she didn't say nothing either. She described what she observed and communicated it back. It wasn't "good" or "bad" - it was "to the point" or "logically laid out" or ... whatever stuck out most to her, whatever she appreciated most about it. That way the person who had done the work would feel good about what he or she had done. That's a gift (getting people to praise themselves) when it comes naturally. However, that is also a skill that can be learned, and it stems from an attitude, a realization that no one person can do it all; we all need someone. We all need help.

Saying so opens us up to people, and allows them to participate in the goal. It gives them a sense of purpose and cohesion.

Now where have I heard things like this before? Oh yes, now I remember! It was in a book I read as a young parent - the techniques I learned from it got me out of a lot of ticklish situations as a mom: loaded questions like "How do you like my picture, Mommy?" (Uuuhhmmmm....) The book was by Faber and Mazlish and was called "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" and talked about how wrong it was to say something was "bad" or even "good." These two authors mastered the techniques of describing that picture the three-year-old finger-painted, the one that looked like a smush of color in a mud puddle: "I see so much color! Blue and yellow and red and brown, ... wow! Can you tell me some more about it?" People are people no matter what age they are. The lessons I learned from that book, seeing them play out in my family life, I re-learned from my boss. It's funny how things come full circle like that.

Mean what you say. Words last.

People can tell when you're sincere.
People can tell when you're sincere. | Source

Death and life are in the power of the tongue...

The above is a quote from the book of Proverbs (18:21). For centuries, Jews have believed that words have life, that they have the power to accomplish what you say. In a certain sense, we can see that this is true; we all have seen self-fulfilling prophecies take place. The popular poem, "Children Learn What They Live" by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D, is a perfect treatise on how the power of words can make or break a life.

Even in your own life, you know this to be true. Think of a time when you were a child and someone verbally crushed you with a cruel or thoughtless remark; the sting of that may have taken years to erase. Perhaps it never went away, depending on who said it and how often it was repeated. Conversely, think of a time when you received encouragement and appreciation from someone, especially when you knew it came from that person's heart - remember how great that felt? I'll wager that stayed with you too.

Don't you want to be remembered as the kind of person who lifted someone else up rather than the kind who never said a good word about anyone ... or just never said anything? at least, not until it was too late?

I've been to a lot of funerals ... far too many. The one thing I hear most often at funerals and "wakes" is how wonderful, kind, generous, giving and loving the dearly departed was when he or she was living. I often wonder if he or she ever knew how these people felt. I wonder. How much better would it be to tell people who matter to us how we feel about them before it's impossible to let them know?

How hard would it be to look for the positives and focus on them instead of nit-picking? I know that I have such a tendency to see what is missing, to zoom in on the 5% that's not been done, or what's been done incorrectly, rather than to look at the 95% that did get done well, and (even more importantly) the desire to help in the first place. I'm better at expressing my appreciation than I was, but I still have a way to go yet.

Many people are afraid that saying thank you or showing appreciation will go to the person's head, and make them arrogant. Over and over I have seen people that I think have it so "together" need so desperately to know that their contribution is important. I've even seen that kind of support actually save someone's life - unknown to the person who expressed her appreciation, the recipient had actually made plans to commit suicide, and was on the way out the door to do just that, when a piece of mail arrived just in the nick of time with love attached. That one word fitly spoken was not only a gift to the struggling one, it was also an incredible gift to the one who extended her hand; she realized that if she'd said nothing, she'd have lost her friend and never would have known why.

It's a sobering thought, isn't it?

Many people don't know how to say thanks. I know one young girl who said to her mother, "You never appreciate anything I try to do, I have never heard you say, 'Thank you' for anything! All I want is to know you approve..." The mother tried and tried to make a point to say, "Thank you." That lasted for about a week or so. Then the mother gave up and started paying her daughter money. The daughter's heart sank. She didn't want her mom's money. She wanted to know whether what she did mattered. She wanted to know if SHE mattered.She concluded that she didn't. That's a deep wound from which she has never fully recovered.

Learn to say it. Say it from the heart; mean it.

It will make the world of difference - to the people in your life, and to you.

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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      What a wonderful read . I loved it and vote up and share.

      Eddy.

    • Judy G Gillis profile image
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      Judy G Gillis 4 years ago from Charlottetown, PEI, Canada

      Thanks Eddy! :D

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