Praise & encouragement: are you a miser or a giver?
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.
One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.
The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their years in the military, where they’d vacationed. Every afternoon, when the man by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside.
The man in the other bed began to live for that hour each day where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and colour outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every colour and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.
As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene. Days, weeks and months passed.
One morning, the day nurse arrived to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall.
The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”
Encouragement and Praise: Could You Be More Generous With It?
My sister Cath emailed me this story yesterday. I’m not much into chain emails but this one I thought worthy of sharing because, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “it is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without also helping himself.”
Likewise I believe that when we encourage others, we are simultaneously building up our own sense of self-confidence and esteem; that when we seek to build another’s spirit we cannot help but build our own. Too often people are a little suspicious about being overly encouraging or generous with praise. They worry about going over board and giving people a big head or having people become dependent on their praise. I once met a mother who told me she didn’t like to praise her kids too much because then they wouldn’t appreciate it properly and might become complacent. What trollop!
The reality is that we all appreciate a word (or three!) of encouragement, praise or appreciation, whether we are 5 year old child or a 50 year old executive. I’ve yet to meet a person who felt over-encouraged, appreciated or praised but I meet people all the time who feel just the opposite. In fact it’s been interesting for me to see over the last few years that one of the most popular exercises I run in my programs is one focused on giving and receiving praise. So many (too many) people are absolutely craving to have others acknowledge and encourage their efforts.
Like me though, you probably find yourself so busy in your day-to-day life that you often simply miss opportunities to pass on a word of praise or encouragement. Of course we rarely miss noticing the negative things that affect our day (like our kids fighting or our partner forgetting to run an errand or pay a bill) but how often do you stop to notice when your kids aren’t fighting, your PA does her job well or the waitress serves you cheerfully and efficiently?
Do you recall the time that Sherlock Holmes solved the crime because he noticed the dog wasn’t barking? Likewise if you don’t notice the absence of problems then you will be even less likely to take the time to praise people for what they are doing right.
Mark Twain once said he could live for two months on a good compliment. The importance of taking the time to build others up is something that the very best leaders know all too well. Donald Peterson, former chairman of Ford Motor Company, said the most important ten minutes of his day were spent boosting the people around him. Sam Walton, Walmart founder, said a few well-timed words of praise cost nothing but are worth a fortune.
But praise isn’t just about getting the best out of employees. Praise is about simply making a difference for another human being. Not only can a few genuine words of encouragement brighten someone’s day, but tomorrow, when you have long forgotten what you said, you may be leaving them with something they will cherish for a lifetime.
So my challenge to you is to make it a daily habit to ask yourself who you could be giving a word of praise or encouragement to and then be more generous with your words than you have up to now. You don’t need to wait for someone to accomplish some monumental feat before it’s fitting to direct a word of praise their way. A word of encouragement for something small or for someone in the midst of challenging times is far more meaningful and valued than waiting until someone’s crossed the finish line or won the gold.
As for how much is the right amount my advice is this: praise/encourage someone more than you think you should and then when you think you’ve gone far enough, double it! Who knows what impact your few words can have on another person’s spirit. Who knows what an impact your few words can have on your own! Why not forward this on to those you’ve missed opportunities to encourage in the past with a note saying you intend to do better in the future? It’s likely to be the best email they get all day! Keep in mind that it’s a universal law of life that what goes around, comes around! You attract what you give.
So on that note, I want to acknowledge you for taking the time to read this. Your support is much appreciated! May you go boldly, encourage generously and praise abundantly!