My direct reports will rarely hear multiple “Yay for you!” declarations weekly, monthly, or even yearly. It’s not that I don’t think validation and affirmation are important – it just doesn’t come naturally to me. I lean towards the mindset that employees should assume everything is going well unless they hear otherwise. Of course, when I analyze this belief, I realize it can have some consequences. I do know that from time to time, people need to know their contributions and presence are valued. It’s difficult to maintain employee engagement levels in the absence of validation.
As I’ve grown as a leader, I have gotten better at authentically giving affirmations. Occasionally (and if I’m honest, sometimes maybe as little as once a year) I will intentionally give a thoughtful, sincere compliment. Sometimes it’s in person and sometimes it’s written, but it’s always intentional and pointed enough that the recipient knows they are noticed and appreciated.
I have learned two key things when it comes to giving affirmations:
- Because I give validation infrequently, when I do, the impact is greater. Employees feel appreciated even more because my affirmations aren’t frequent – the element of surprise adds to the effect of the affirmation.
- Specifics matter. When giving affirmations, I’ve learned to be crystal clear about what I am affirming. I name the specific habit or trait I appreciate, or I identify a project they did exceptionally well. Being specific lets the recipient know you are paying attention to the details and notice them better than a broad “good job” affirmation.
In the spirit of honesty, I’m sure many of my employees feel I could give a few more affirmations – and they are likely right. Like most things, we can improve with intention and focus. So, perhaps this year I’ll increase my affirmations to twice a year!
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