Friday, April 29, 2011

Giving Validation

In a northwestern US city, a woman from out of town parked her car in an attended lot and walked across the street to shop. Hoping to get a discount on the cost of parking, and not familiar with local idioms, she asked, “Do you give validation?”

“Certainly,” replied the store’s manager. “You are an excellent person and I love your hair.”

That might have been worth the cost of parking. I mean, who wouldn’t pay a couple of dollars for the kind of validation that she got?

Mark Twain said, “I can live two months off a good compliment.” But then he also said, “If you can't get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.” I suppose sometimes that is the only way we can get one.

I’m a strong believer in the power of affirming other people. One time I facetiously told an audience that I have never in my life received a standing ovation. They gave me one -- and I’m here to tell you it isn’t nearly so satisfying when you have to ask for it. Nevertheless, I never underestimate the importance of positive encouragement in a life.

Author Alan Loy McGinnis cites an interesting study about the power of positive encouragement (http://tinyurl.com/6xg9mba). He tells of a second-grade teacher who complained that her children were spending too much time standing up and roaming around the room rather than working.

Two psychologists spent several days at the back of the room with stopwatches observing the behavior of the children and the teacher. Every ten seconds they noted how many children were out of their seats. They counted 360 unseated children throughout each 20-minute period. They also noted that the teacher said "Sit down!" seven times during the same period.

The psychologists tried an experiment. The asked the teacher to tell the children to sit down more often. Then they sat back to see what would happen. This time they noted that she commanded her students to sit down 27.5 times in an average 20-minute period, and now 540 were noted to be out of their seats during the same average period. Her increased scolding actually made the problem worse. (Interestingly, when she later backed off to her normal number of reprimands, the roaming also declined to the exact same number recorded previously in just two days.)

Then the experimenters tried a different tack. They asked the teacher to refrain from commanding the children to sit down altogether, and to instead quietly compliment those children who were seated and working. The result? Children's roaming decreased by 33%. They exhibited their best behavior when they were complimented more and reprimanded less.

There is immense power in affirming others. Leaders who get results know this. People who draw others to themselves and who motivate others to great action are almost always those who encourage more than criticize; who compliment more and reprimand less.

Perhaps the woman’s question is the correct one after all. “Do you give validation?” I hope I can always answer YES.

-- Steve Goodier

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