A New Kind of Training – Get Your Black Belt in Affirmation Part 1: Intro

blake-ross-croppedBy Blake Anthony Ross, Lead Front-End Developer

Okay, comrades. We are about to go really deep into a topic together. I mean really deep. So before we launch into things, let’s gird up and recenter real quick.

This blog series is intended to stoke our cultivation of relational skills through insight, challenge, and repeatedly maintaining vision that our relational skills have as much to do with our career’s flourishing as does our expertise in professional/technical skills. Therefore, relational skills deserve to be trained, refined and practiced just as much as our areas of professional expertise. In fact, our very first blog essentially confronted you with this question: Do you value and conceptualize relational skills as contributing to your career’s flourishing as much as you do your professional/technical skills?

With all that in mind, I want us to devote a few articles to focus on an extremely basic, foundational, almost banal, apparently-not-even-worth-focusing-on relational skill: affirmation. I bet a few of us have a sense that when it comes to studying and refining a technical skill like videography / cinematography, whoa! That rabbit hole goes deep! I mean, I could study it for years and still learn new things!

But I bet that for many of us, something so basic as affirming others would never strike us as something we could so deeply train, cultivate, practice, and get better at, (like videography / cinematography) all the while paying dividends for our career, company and job satisfaction. Well, if you’ll stick with us for the next few articles, then my guess is that we’ll start to feel the real magnitude and depth of this skill together.

So let’s train. To begin, we need to take inventory. Take a few minutes of your day and examine yourself and your impressions of others with these questions:

  • nicols01What do I think it even means to affirm someone? (This question should feel pretty basic and obvious, but it’s a good starter.)
  • How easily do I affirm others? Some people may generally feel awkward affirming anyone. Some people may feel awkward affirming only a few specific people. Some people experience no trouble at all affirming people. And some people might even love doing it and look for opportunities to do it. So where are you on that spectrum (and why)?
  • Are there particular ways I want to be better at this in my relationships, both professionally and personally? Or do I feel like I’m on a pretty solid base with this skill?
  • Can you imagine gaining more clients if you were a more skillful affirmer? (Though of course we aren’t talking about being a sly, ingratiating weasel here. We are talking about being an excellent communicator and an honest, genuine, masterful builder of trust and relationships.)
  • Can you imagine having a stronger team if you were more skilled at affirmation? Or is affirmation really rather negligible, like it’s no big deal for how your coworkers relate?
  • How on earth might you begin to pursue becoming better at this skill?

If you spend time with those questions and basically come to a sense of “eh, I’m not very interested. I think I’m fine with how I affirm people right now.” Then please consider coming back to prove yourself wrong, as I’m confident the ideas we will sort through in upcoming articles will challenge any reader’s status quo.

If, however, you are already onboard and ready to pursue this skill together, then consider striking up a conversation with coworkers or friends or family on the topic to really get some thoughts percolating. You can do that today! The second question on the list could easily be adapted to basic conversation with a coworker or friend. “Hey, I read an article today about affirming people at work and, while it was kinda touchy-feely, I did start thinking about how sometimes it feels awkward for me to affirm people. Do you ever feel awkward complimenting people or just telling folks they did a good job or anything like that?”

In future articles, we are going to examine three major components of skillful affirmation: repetition, craftsmanship and something I’ll call “occasion.” Master them and you will have your black belt in affirmation. Our next article, however, is going to offer a critical concept we are going to need before we go hard after those three components of skillful affirmation. Without it, the pursuit of skillful affirmation could easily go haywire and get very puzzling results. See you back here in two weeks!

Until then, train like your career depended on it!