41: Why People Crave Affirmation in the Workplace
This episode continues my periodic series on the chapters of my book “The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make.” I am so excited that the audiobook version is coming out soon. A lot of people have asked for this so they can listen to the book while they are driving, or working out, or making dinner.
In this episode I cover:
- Everyone thrives on affirmation and praise.
- We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness.
- Learn to read the varying levels of affirmation your people need.
Everyone needs praise, in fact we thrive on it. Human beings are not like the Energizer bunny that just keeps going and going, we need to have our tanks replenished, with praise and positive affirmation.
“One of the commodities in life that most people can’t get enough of is compliments. The ego is never so intact that one can’t find a hole in which to plug a little praise. But, compli- ments by their very nature are highly biodegradable and tend to dissolve hours or days after we receive them–which is why we can always use another.” —Phyllis Theroux
As children we need praise and affirmation, to let us know we are doing a good job and have confidence in our selves. The same principle applies when we are just starting a new job or career. When a friend of mine decided to change careers, he found himself lost in a sea of new things to learn that did not relate at all to his old job. He felt like he could not do anything right, but I will never forget what he said: “I lap up every little word of encouragement like a thirsty puppy. It’s the only thing that keeps me going.” Oftentimes, we have no idea how much those little pats on the back mean to those around us.
People that you work with need difference amounts and different kinds of affirmation, as seen in this chart:
From the book Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni:
- Anonymity: When you feel like the boss does not even no you are there.
- Irrelevance: What you are doing is not important.
- Immeasurment: You don’t know if what you are doing matters, and you need feedback.
The chart above shows the different types of people that need different types of affirmation. This is not a new concept, as in the New Testament Paul says, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with every- one” (1 Thess. 5:14).
“We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch. And of all personal touches, I find the short, hand- written ‘nice job’ note to have the highest impact. (It even seems to beat a call—something about the tangibility.) “A former boss (who’s gone on to a highly successful career) religiously took about 15 min- utes (max) at the end of each day, at 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., whenever, to jot a half-dozen paragraph-long notes to people who’d given him time during the day or who’d made a provocative remark at some meeting. I remember him say- ing that he was dumbfounded by the number of recipients who subsequently thanked him for thanking them.” —Tom Peters, “Management Excellence,” The Business Journal
Here are some verses from the New Testament that go with each of these encouragements.
Listening. “Listen” is the most important word in a leader’s language. Just because we are the leaders does not mean we are the only ones with a voice. The L in leader stands for listening (see James 1:19).
Empathizing. If others are happy, share their joy. If there is deep tragedy in their lives, stop everything and weep with them (see Rom. 12:15).
Comforting. We have gone through so much ourselves, and those expe- riences give us the richness as leaders to be able to comfort others when they go through the same pain (see 2 Cor. 1:3–4).
Carrying burdens. This, after all, is the way we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Encouraging. Let people know often they are doing a good job. Look for the good and point it out, and you’ll see more and more good come from your colleagues. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).