Welcome to Part 2 of training to get our black belt in the relational skill of affirmation. Catch up on Part 1 here if you need to. With this article, we tackle a critical insight for someone seeking to become highly skilled in affirmation. We are going to need to deepen our comprehension of how people are impacted very differently by affirming words.
There is a wide spectrum of how differently people tend to respond to verbal affirmation, and this is an important thing for a skillful affirmer to grasp. I have known people whose tendency was that if you said a kind word to them, it could literally change their day! I have known others whose apparent tendency was to almost completely disregard a kind word, as if it was in one ear and out the other. In fact, that’s been my own story for much of my life. Consider people you know for a moment; are you familiar with both ends of the spectrum? Can you think of people who are easily impacted or apparently barely impacted by affirming or encouraging words?
Let’s take this idea further. I have also observed that people who tend to be highly impacted by affirming words are also highly prone to give them to others, and those for whom affirming words just kind of roll off their back like water on a Rain-ex’d windshield, well, they tend not to give affirming words to others very often. Have you observed this too? It’s certainly true in my life. About 10 years ago, I realized that encouraging or affirming words seemed to rarely impact me. Furthermore, I also began to notice a reluctance to give affirming words and a preference for showing kindness in other ways. Might there be a connection?
So here is an idea you can test and likely find to be generally true. The degree to which you tend to be impacted by affirming words will shape:
1) the degree to which you naturally imagine affirming words will be impactful to others; and
2) the sense of ease/naturalness/awkwardness/inappropriateness that you feel in affirming others.
With these ideas in place, let’s now import this practically for those of us ready to cultivate the skill of affirmation, especially in light of the tremendous gains it could bring to our career and workplace if this was an area where we were stronger.
If you are a person who tends to be impacted by affirmation, sees and experiences the value of affirmation, and are prone to give it, know that there are healthy people out there who do not experience affirmation as powerfully as you do. Know that there is nothing inherently bad about this whatsoever. Know that to effectively strengthen a relationship or fill a person with courage, etc., your affirmation may need to be more skillful and more deliberate than normal in order to “reach” them. And don’t be puzzled if affirmation doesn’t seem to be having the good result you might guess it would. You may need to use a different tool in the toolbox, so to speak.*
If you are a person who tends not to be impacted by affirmation, doesn’t really see and experience the value of affirmation, and don’t feel very inclined to give it, know that you may be working with people who could benefit greatly from a little bit of affirmation from you. Know that there are people out there who can be surprisingly highly impacted and helped by a few affirming words. Know that this is in no way a weakness. Know that to more effectively strengthen a relationship or fill a person with courage, etc., you may need to deliberately cultivate how freely and skillfully you give affirming words. And don’t be puzzled if you thrive in high-challenge environments and high-stress situations without affirmation, yet begin to notice in time that others can be greatly fueled to thrive in high challenge/high stress situations by a little affirmation.
And now, if we are all hungry to get concrete and practical, ready to get the ingredients we need to begin cultivating refined, skillful, black-belt-level affirmation, then buckle up, because we are about to zero-in on three dynamics of highly skillful affirmation. We commence with the next article.
Until then, train like your career depended on it!
*A different tool in the toolbox? Sometimes doing something to serve someone can be much more effective at strengthening a relationship than affirming words, or perhaps a high five, or a few minutes of quality conversation, or some kind of gift. There is a profound, excellent book that addresses these ideas very directly and insightfully. It’s called “The Five Love Languages.” It’s sold over 5 million copies and I would recommend it to anyone.