In this last article of our season of focusing on the skill of affirmation in the workplace, we examine the third and final dynamic of skillful affirmation: occasionality. Unfortunately, I still find myself wanting a better, more precise word for this concept than “occasionality.” Repetition and Craftsmanship—our two other dynamics—are words that nail the concept very well. This third dynamic is perhaps better expressed with the phrase “responding to the occasion vs. creating the occasion.”
This dynamic should be very easy to discern through illustration. Here is the baseline scenario, and the three options that follow show different ways to respond to the scenario. And as with the other two dynamics, this is not meant to show “better” or “worse.” They only show the range available to affirm others at varying degrees. You will likely, however, find Option 3 to be the most compelling. Options 1 and 2 may easily strike you as obvious and uninsightful, but they serve to clarify Option 3.
Jane, your company’s hospitality director, orders a lot of food for an important client meeting at your workplace. She sets up the room and the food table with a very apparent extra level of care for the good impression your company can make on these clients. You notice this and feel very appreciative.
A RANGE OF POSSIBLE RESPONSES:
OPTION 1: Later in the day, you see Jane in the company kitchen cleaning some of what she set out for the meeting and, naturally, you tell her how much you appreciated all she did. You have responded to the occasion. It’s almost as if in this little interaction with her, one might think, “Well, of course I told her ‘thank you’ when I saw her in the kitchen. She was cleaning up the very things she had just set out for our meeting! It almost would have been strange not to say something kind and appreciative.” The overwhelming majority of the affirmation we give to others is like this; it very much flows from the moment.
OPTION 2: Instead of seeing Jane in the kitchen that day, it’s actually a few days later that you first see her again and she’s talking with another coworker in the kitchen about a totally different client meeting that happened that morning. A lot has happened since your client meeting several days ago, and at this point, if you never followed up with a thank you to her, there would be nothing strange about that whatsoever. Time has gotten rid of any element of, “The natural thing to do right here would be to thank her, so I probably should.” Yet you take some initiative and use their conversation about a different client meeting to insert some earnest appreciation. “Hey, speaking of that, sorry to butt in, but real quick: I thought you really ran the extra mile to show hospitality to our clients a few days ago. It was apparent and I really appreciated it! Thank you so much.” The thing to notice is this: Your affirmation was not precipitated by the occasion; rather, you took some initiative and created the occasion as a natural extension of the conversation she was having with her coworker.
OPTION 3: You haven’t run into Jane since your client meeting two days ago. You’re in your office writing an email to that same client and you recall how well she showed hospitality on behalf of the company. You really want to thank her, so you decide to pause your email and instead walk up to the front desk where she sits. In a way that is totally unprecipitated by any interaction you had with her that day, not flowing from the moment whatsoever, you say, “Hey, I have been wanting to tell you what an awesome job you did for my client meeting the other day. I mean you really went the extra mile, and it was obvious, and I really appreciated it. Thank you.” In this scenario, you have 100% created the occasion to offer affirmation; not merely responded to an occasion.
Do you see the differences in the responses? The options go from responding to the occasion with minimal initiative to somewhat responding to the occasion (triggered by the conversation you walked in on) and taking some level of initiative to segue in your affirmation, to 100% pure initiative on your part. Can you spot how differently this can be received by the person whom you are affirming? If you want to step up the efficacy of your affirmation, this dynamic can be a powerful one to harness.
In my own experience, I can say it definitely communicates something different to me if someone affirms me in a way that is a natural response to an occasion vs. that person actually taking some initiative to create the occasion to affirm me. As a quick example, if I give a presentation at a staff meeting about augmented reality technology, and at the end of it I’m walking out of the meeting room and someone slaps me on the back and says, “Hey, great job presenting today,” that is wonderful and I am glad to hear it. That sort of spontaneous, natural affirmation is really important in day-to-day relationships. (And remember, this is not about “better” or “worse” but rather just being able to discern varying degrees of impact.) But if someone pops their head in my team’s office several hours later, totally unprecipitated by an interaction or proximity that is conducive to giving potentially perfunctory affirmation, and says, “Hey, Blake, great job presenting today,” then I internalize that a little differently, and perhaps a little more powerfully.
None of this is rocket science, of course. Hopefully you can see this dynamic now. Someone with a black belt in affirmation will be able to utilize this dynamic to more effectively affirm others in the workplace, and they’ll even be able to combine it with the other two dynamics. So maybe that person pops his head in my team’s office several hours after my presentation and ramps up the craftsmanship by telling me something specific about my presentation that they really valued above and beyond “great job.” And maybe that same person utilizes repetition the next day when I run into him in the company kitchen, and as they walk out they toss out a real quick “Hey, again, killer job yesterday.”
Do you see the three dynamics at work now? If you do, you’re equipped to be a black belt in affirmation.
Now you know what to do, comrade. Train like your career depended on it!