The Power of Affirmation

I was thinking about a friend over the weekend and mulling over what it is that makes her so special. Then it occurred to me that she is one of the most affirming individuals that I’ve ever met. Not cheesy, useless “you can do it” affirming, but very specific and focused and natural. At the same time, I was grading graduate student final papers and, as many of us do, getting more distracted by the amount of feedback that I needed to give rather than focusing on the specific feedback each student needed to receive. What that starts to look like then is a version of, “If I didn’t criticize you about it, it was good.”

In 1982, Ken Blanchard published “The One Minute Manager,” which since then has sold over 13 million copies (kenblanchard.com). If you haven’t read this book (seriously?) you really need to! In his book, Dr. Blanchard extorts managers to “Catch People Doing Something Right” and then, without formality and tons of structure, give them feedback about the value of what they’re doing and you’re appreciation of their effort.

Unfortunately, many managers that I have worked with in my consulting business as well as students in my graduate classes, have adopted the theory that giving positive feedback on elements of one’s job that they are expected to do anyway will create an “entitlement” culture. Actually, many are afraid that once they start they might have to continue. As one manager told me recently, “I barely have time to correct the wrong behaviors. I certainly don’t have time to say something about the right ones.”

This is a real shame and a way to lose good people over time. It is certainly a mindset that undermines employee morale and engagement no differently than a lack of positive interaction lays waste to any personal relationship. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, and reported in Forbes Magazine, analyzed over 200,000 responses from around the world finding that the number one factor in employee happiness was “Appreciation for my work.”

And by the way, that concern over how much time affirmation of a person actually takes? Not an issue. First, like I suggested before, read Ken Blanchard’s book “The One Minute Manager,” or another of his great books, “Catch People Doing Something Right: Ken Blanchard on Empowerment.” Second, don’t overcomplicate it. Identify something specific that a co-worker, employee or boss (yes, boss) has done and praise it for that specific thing. Say thank you, even when people are delivering what they are expected to deliver. Identify a single thing that they are doing very well in their work and let them know you notice.

There are many other ways to do simple affirmations without sounding like a self-help guru. The biggest trick…think about your people and your relationships and give some intentional reflection to what it is about each of them that you admire. Don’t make stuff up…be sincere. You will find that for such a small investment, the returns can be tremendous.

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One thought on “The Power of Affirmation

  1. I work at IBM, and this simple act of appreciation is almost virtually non-existent, either in person or on-line in IBM’s forums.
    It is so simple, and requires *very* little effort, and can make so much difference.