A New Kind of Training – Get Your Black Belt in Affirmation Part 4: Craftsmanship

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

Continuing our focus on highly skillful affirmation in the workplace, today we consider the second dynamic we need to be ready to harness if we are going to be black belts in affirmation in the workplace: craftsmanship.

If you’d first like to check out the Affirmation articles leading up to this one, follow these links:

Get Your Black Belt in Affirmation Part 1 – Intro

Get Your Black Belt in Affirmation Part 2 – The Spectrum of Impact

Get Your Black Belt in Affirmation Part 3 – Repetition

To start, let’s see if these three sandwiches can help us see something about the nature of skillful craftsmanship in workplace affirmation:


The first thing these sandwiches can help us see about this dynamic is that it’s about how much effort you put into crafting WHAT you’re going to say and HOW you’re going to say it. And if the range of craftsmanship in sandwich-making is large, the range of craftsmanship one can employ for expressing affirmation is utterly enormous.

Consider this: on the low end, a quick and simple, peanut-butter-jelly-style “Thanks!” can be given as affirmation if you poke your head in someone’s office, ask them a question, and they give you a helpful answer to your question. On the somewhat high end, you could go mile-high-club-sandwich-with-avocado-style and wrap up a project with a client by sending them an email with several sentences of really intentional affirmation about how much you enjoyed the project, enjoyed working with them, how that one girl did the one thing that one time that was so awesome, etc. Something like that really takes intentionality and craftsmanship!

The second thing these sandwiches can teach us about craftsmanship in affirmation is that high craftsmanship in no way = good, and low craftsmanship in no way = bad. People, sometimes PBJs are delicious, especially to my friend who eats his with hot sauce. And, people, sometimes those avocado sandwiches are just a little overblown and not worth the effort!

So when it comes to the dynamic of high or low craftsmanship in affirmation, we are not making a good vs. bad dichotomy whatsoever. Some situations make quick, off-the-cuff, low-craftsmanship affirmation entirely appropriate, and responding with high craftsmanship could be odd and awkward. And some situations really merit a higher level of craftsmanship in how we respond affirmingly.

The important thing is this: be a person who 1) comprehends that a range of craftsmanship is available any time you choose to affirm someone, and be a person who 2) can choose how much craftsmanship you can put into your affirmation with coworkers and clients. Do what you need to do to get to where you can skillfully, comfortably affirm someone with high craftsmanship and intentionality if you so choose. You can practice and cultivate this ability as you would any of your other areas of professional expertise. That’s what this whole blog series is about, after all!

So with these simple ideas in place, let’s make some sandwiches. In the last article, we concluded with six examples of how we might see a legitimate need for repetition of affirmation play out in the workplace. Let’s stick with those same six examples and further develop them to exhibit the dynamic of craftsmanship. See if you can spot how craftsmanship is being utilized in these highly skillful scenarios:

  • A new hire is placed in a somewhat new role for her/him. As little projects are completed or small milestones are reached, you consistently give simple affirmation. In the course of natural conversation, you say, “You totally nailed this; well done.” Another time you fist-pound him/her and say, “You’re rocking this.” Another time, you say, “Hey, we had some hang-ups, but it came out all right, all things considered.” Finally, it’s avocado club sandwich time. You shoot this person an email that says, “Hey. In this project, we had this and this come up, but you did this and this and totally nailed it. Then we had that other project, and you completely owned this thing about it. And that last project had this really tough thing, but you pulled it off and the client was happy. We have some bigger, tougher projects coming down the pike. Do you feel good about what you’re doing? Do you feel ready? You should! Just keep at it like you have been!”
  • A nervous spokesman for your team is a day away from giving a critical presentation in front of a large audience. After multiple, quick, PBJ-style affirmations over the past couple days, you pause a little longer in the office door and say, “Hey, I know you’re nervous, and that’s to be expected. These people need and want our services. You consistently do a stellar job at presenting. In my mind, this is a slow softball pitch for you, and you’re Babe Ruth, so of course you’re going to knock this thing out of the park. You just do your thing and it’s in the bag!”
  • Management sees a trend of people feeling somewhat insecure in their jobs following a tide of recent layoffs. This is not a time for PBJs. Management plans a company-wide staff meeting to thoroughly address the issue and provide the stoutest, most genuine and carefully crafted affirmation they can muster for how valued the remaining employees are, alongside evidence for why layoffs were needed but are no longer needed.
  • You gave a heavy piece of critical feedback to someone recently about needing to improve in one particular area, but you sense that they need to be reassured of the strength and value they bring your team while they work toward improvement in this one particular area. Can you imagine this scenario? Can you imagine giving some high craftsmanship affirmation in this scenario? What might you do or say?
  • Your friend who works in manufacturing says “Man, we get no credit for the work we do!” He feels like he and his team on the factory line get no appreciation for how hard they work to help the company succeed. Do you think their management would be fine to suffice with blasé affirmation for how valuable those workers are to the company? What might higher craftsmanship affirmation from management look like in this scenario?
  • A client consistently calls and slips in a quick “Hey, sorry to bother you. I know you must be busy.” You want this client to trust you totally and to know they are always welcome to reach out about anything, and them slipping in an apology every time you talk starts to strike you as not at all characteristic of the sort of relationship you are trying to build. You, as a black belt affirmer now, do not absentmindedly offer passive PBJ assurance that “Oh, it’s fine that you called. What’s up?” Rather, black-belt sandwich-chef that you are, you whip out an avocado club sandwich of affirmation. What do you say and how do you say it?

So there you go! Craftsmanship. Do you have any real-life situations in your workplace that might benefit from some stepped-up, higher-craftsmanship affirmation? If so, you know what to do, comrade. Train like your career depended on it! See you here again in two weeks when we talk about our third and final dynamic of skillful affirmation in the workplace.