A teacher asked her students if any of them had extra pencils they’d be willing to share with their classmates. One student reluctantly raised his hand.
The teacher approached his desk, and before the student handed her his pencil case, he told her that he didn’t mind sharing his pencils, but he wanted them back when they were not being used.
The teacher agreed to return them at the end of the day, but was wondering why this student was making such a big deal about the pencils. When she opened his pencil case, everything became clear.
Each pencil was adorned with a few words of encouragement in what looked like red nail polish. The teacher realized how special these pencils were to the boy as she read the note on each one: “You are smart.” “I love you.” “You can do great things.” “I am proud of you.” “You’re the best.” “I believe in you.”
This story, adapted from the SunnySkyz website, demonstrates the power of encouragement. A person may not be as good as you tell her she is, but she’ll try harder thereafter.
Encouragement is defined as something that makes someone feel more supported; something that makes someone more determined, hopeful or confident; and something that makes someone more likely to do something.
One of my favorite quotes on encouragement is from the dean of influencing people, Dale Carnegie: “Tell a child, a husband or an employee that he is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, that he has no gift for it and that he is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique — be liberal with encouragement; make the thing seem easy to do; let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it; that he has an undeveloped flair for it — and he will practice until the dawn comes in at the window in order to excel.”
There are plenty of easy ways to make people feel special, such as a simple smile, taking them out for a meal, listening, doing a favor, giving a recommendation or compliment, or sending a hand-written note or card telling them how much you appreciate them.
Encouragement is an especially valuable tool for managing employees. I can tell you from decades of business experience, it is critically important to emphasize positive achievements in performance reviews, and to offer constructive advice for improving areas that need building up. Make employees feel like they can reach their potential.
What do your employees really want? A manager who cares will remember these basic elements:
- “I want to feel important.” No one wants to feel like a number, interchangeable and easy to forget. Get to know your employees as people; find out what makes each one unique and show them you’re paying attention to their individuality.
- “I need encouragement.” Even the best employees continue to flourish and grow with positive feedback. Let them know what they’re doing right and how they can keep performing at a high level. They’ll notice and keep up their efforts.
- “I want to believe in you.” Employees want to know they can trust you — your knowledge, your expertise and your word. Show your commitment to helping them succeed and grow by listening, answering questions honestly and keeping your promises.
- “I want to succeed.” Most employees want to do a good job, even if they don’t necessarily want to advance. Explain your expectations clearly and give them the training and support they need so they know you’re invested in helping them.
- “I want to be motivated.” Yes, motivation springs from inside, but employees want to be told why they should complete a project or improve quality in terms that make sense to them. Emphasize the job’s value to the organization, as well as the benefits the employee will enjoy — personal satisfaction as well as more tangible rewards — to unleash their enthusiasm and commitment.
As the old saying goes: “People do not live by bread alone. They need buttering up once in a while.”
Mackay’s Moral: Compliments are like potato chips. Once you’ve had one, you look for more.