As someone who has spent his life reporting and telling stories, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that too frequently I lose sight of how powerful words can be, especially positive phrases.
This past week, I sat down with one of my students to discuss a project she is considering. It is a higher-profile effort and will require her to learn some new skills and develop some deeper knowledge. The whole thing is a bit intimidating, but as I explained the project I assured her that she would be successful because she has demonstrated great journalistic skill over this school year – solid writing, good interview skills and a knack for identifying interesting, compelling stories. Her eyes widened, a smile made its way across her face and she offered a sheepish, “Thank you,” then signed on to the project.
Throughout the Smith-Cotton Army JROTC Awards Night ceremony Thursday, Sgt. Maj. Randy Woods gushed with pride as he announced the cadets’ achievements. In many cases, it was easy to see that his comments meant as much or more than the medals, ribbons and certificates the cadets had earned.
In our participation trophy culture, compliments often are seen as hollow or manipulative. Certainly, if a compliment is offered in an effort to manage the recipient’s behavior, it should be questioned.
Still, compliments and praise are powerful agents for change. Think about how you feel when someone acknowledges the quality of your work, the effort you put forth on a project or how you put the needs of others before your own. If you’re anything like me, it makes your day. When I worked in newsrooms, we would say that 10 critical phone calls or emails could be equaled by one reader showing appreciation for our work. Praise truly is 10 times stronger than criticism.
In a forbes.com piece on how compliments can affect the workforce, entrepreneur Shane Snow wrote: “We all need to build each other up and let others see our collective good work. As we look for ways to do this, we’ll build work cultures filled with obnoxiously kind people. We’ll build the kind of business world where powerful women lead and are heard.”
In essence, positive outcomes are derived from positive environments. If you are skeptical, just try it. Spend a day, or just an hour, offering sincere compliments to family members, friends, co-workers, people you don’t even know. You are certain to brighten their day, which in turn will boost your mood.
This isn’t a new concept, just one in which we all could use a refresher course from time to time. I recall back in the 1980s my mother often would watch lectures by motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia, who was known as “Dr. Love.” Buscaglia was a proponent of hugs as well as praise, and he spent much of his life promoting the power of positivity.
“Too often,” he said, “we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Admittedly, I am as guilty as anyone of losing sight of this. I’m working on muting the criticism and amplifying the compliments. It might not change the world, but it could help make someone’s day, and that’s good enough.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.