In our goal-oriented world, we can often overuse our work muscles without taking the time to stretch. We give and receive short, sharp jolts of feedback when things aren’t working because we want to see the job done well. It’s well meant, but we often forget to speak up for the good stuff too.
The same goes for personal development. We seek feedback from managers and mentors wanting to get better, to become that better version of ourselves that we know is in there somewhere. Though this comes from a good place, self-criticism often jumps on feedback before the good bits sink in. We are convinced that improvement comes from turning weakness around when we should be shining more light on our strengths.
In polite society, we are pretty good at saying thank you. It’s a courtesy – which means we are at risk of not meaning it when we say it! – but all the same, we can usually express gratitude without breaking a sweat. Writing down five things you’re grateful for at the start or end of each day is a great way to tap into your here and now and build a positive mindset.
Praise is a bit more prickly, both for the giver and the receiver. It’s not easy to give praise or to receive it. But like the lessons taught to us by my two favourite prickly things – blackberry bushes and hedgehogs – juicy satisfaction and a warm fuzzy feeling await those who dare to engage.
I’m not sure whether giving or receiving praise uses up more of your daily allocation of bravery. When you tell someone you value something they have done, you are showing vulnerability. Whether you learned a new way to do something, someone got you out of a scrape, or you just feel happier when a certain someone is in the room, you admit that you are fallible. Definitely similar to sticking your bare arm in a bramble patch…
Equally, when someone gives you praise, how easy is it to say thanks? Not very. Yet that is literally the one thing you have to do. You don’t even have to smile, if you’re really taken aback. How often do we answer a compliment with either a comment that tries to trivialise this lovely juicy blackberry of positivity that someone has given us?
I have recently noticed that I do it ALL THE TIME. Each week I’ve been microblogging a behaviour hack on twitter using the hashtag #weeklynudge. This week’s #weeklynudge is going to be to say thanks when someone says something nice to me, and I think it’s going to be a tough one. Someone likes my orange mug in the office? I divert their attention from me and my mug with a crafty story about where it’s from, so they too could have such a fabulous tea receptacle, a tangerine tankard of break time joy. This week I will try for something like: “Thanks. I like it a lot and I’m glad you like it too”, and see if I feel the glow of sharing a positive moment rather than thwarting the moment into a feeling of awkwardness and self-deprecation.
When we take a breath and say ‘thank you’ to praise, it really does feel like there is a hedgehog standing there offering a hug. And that hedgehog gives amazing hugs.
We all have an unlimited tab to spend at the bar called Praise. Not all of the best things in life are free, but praise absolutely is. We thrive because of others’ success, not in spite of it. If it feels a bit prickly to say thanks to someone for doing a good job, take a moment to consider why. Find something authentic and positive to say, consider how best to say it, then unleash your praise bomb and see what happens. Equally, when someone offers you the gift of praise, step back, observe the hedgehog, and lean in for that hug.
Happy hedgehog hugging.
Claire Eadington geeks out on workflow management, performance and wellbeing. Claire’s TEDx talk about barriers to performance for exceptional women kicked off the 2017 TEDxWhitehallWomen event in London.
Claire writes a weekly blog, Self Curious, on NPW’s website.
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