When my son was in the second grade, I volunteered in his class. It was a classroom with eight very gifted, yet very challenging, young boys. One particular afternoon, one of the little boys in the class was particularly cranky and angry. I asked the teacher, “How do you reach him?” And she said, “It’s easy. I just give him a genuine compliment.” I replied, “How do you do that on a day like today? He hasn’t done anything to compliment.” And she said, “I come up with something, even if it’s just, ‘I like your t-shirt,’ or ‘I like the way you part your hair.'” Incredulous, I repeated that to her, “I like the way you part your hair?!” “Yes, on the days he’s so upset, so angry, so downtrodden, on those days he’ll accept any compliment. He’s so hungry for someone to notice something positive about him, to throw him a bone, even saying, ‘I like the way you part your hair’ is helpful to him.”
Wow. I found this amazing, and I gave it a try. I looked for big, important things that he and the other students were doing, but when I couldn’t find any, I would say something simple like, “I’m glad you’re thinking about the assignment. I can see the wheels are turning in your head.” Or, “You have your paper out. That’s the first step.”
I find this strategy to be true in my work life as well. Sometimes it’s really difficult for me to find something positive to say to some of the people I have been hired to coach. They don’t want to be there. They don’t want coaching. They never signed up for it. They’re not really motivated by the possibility of growth. In these moments, I say the simplest things, the most obvious things. “Thank you for showing up. Thank you for giving it a try. Thank you for considering what I’m saying.”
Unfortunately, the negative stuff takes up more of our time and our energy. But when we focus on the positive, the positives grow. Here are some things for you to notice:
I like that you followed up.
I like that you started the conversation.
Thank you for drawing it to my attention.
Thank you for doing the research that you’ve done.
Thank you for telling me that you’re going to need some help.
Thank you for letting me know you need more time.
And if all else fails you can always resort to, “I like the way you part your hair.” It will work for all but the bald ones.
In my work, I hear it a lot…
“I’m 40 years old, I’m not going to reinvent myself now.”
And then there’s…
“I am going to retire in a few years, so let the new kids learn that stuff.”
And what about…
“My father died when I was six,” or “My wife had an affair and left me as a single dad with three kids,” or any number of other comments followed by: “This is just the way I am.”
Translation: “It’s the way I am, and it’s the way I am going to stay!”
Other times, I hear employees say it about their peers. “She’s too stuck in her ways to change,” or “He’s at the end of his career, so why would he change now?”
I have to admit, whenever I hear these types of excuses, my reaction is one of sadness.
I think of the head of oncology who operated on my brother. At the end of a full day of surgery, my brother was pronounced cancer-free and given more years of life — hopefully many more years. But, what if that oncologist had said, “He has pancreatic cancer. Few people survive. Why bother?” How did he know that my brother had a chance to live a longer life? He didn’t. He just never gave up.
I suspect the oncologist operates often and has many failures.
But what about the successes? What do the successes and failures have in common?
We can be relatively certain that without intervention, the cancer patient will die.
Without intervention, we can be relatively certain that those saying change isn’t possible will be right.
It is true that we cannot change others. However, we can ask them, “Is this the way you want to stay?” “Is your current behavior helping or hurting you?” “Is your current behavior contributing to the situation in a positive or negative way?”
In our role as change agents, we must constantly ask how can we improve ourselves? How can we help others to improve? We cannot give up on the human potential to change and grow.
Hold onto hope, and don’t stop asking deep, provocative questions. Let me know about the people in your life whom you have seen grow and develop. I love success stories.
There is only one person in the world you can control. And you know who that person is!! Go look in the mirror! And while you’re there, give yourself a thumbs up.
It’s not easy to bring your best self to work everyday — but you do. OK… maybe not last Friday, but who’s counting? Do you take time to truly appreciate all you accomplish throughout the day? That’s why I’m a big proponent of the concept of self management:
Being your own boss even when your paycheck is cut by someone else.
But self management requires a shift in attitude, an acceptance that effective praise does not have to (even though it is nice when it does) come from outside sources. You know when you’ve put in your best work — and the effort it took to get it done.
So before you move on to your next task after filing that complex budget report, step back and acknowledge what you’ve achieved with a good old “Yay Me!” Maybe even take yourself out for a coffee. Not only will you notice a self-esteem boost, you might also see a surge in productivity, just like when you have a boss who is good at delivering positive feedback.
And do you appreciate yourself when a colleague says something snarky, and you choose to hold your tongue? Or when you see something really inappropriate, and you find just the right time and place to address it one-on-one? Or, for those of you who have trouble speaking up, do you silently applaud yourself when you pitch an idea at the meeting? We need to appreciate both our tangible work efforts AND the way we notice and manage our emotions and interactions.
While it’s true that you are the only one you can control, it’s also true that your opinion of you has a huge impact on your ability to succeed. So look within, and in 2018 be the best manager you’ve ever had!