In interviews with medal-winning Olympic athletes during London 2012, most of them acknowledged the impact that the cheers from spectators had on spurring them to success in their vital races and events.
Yesterday, I had my own – admittedly somewhat less headline-grabbing – experience of the importance of someone else’s encouragement.
Heading out on one of my own runs (or rather slow jogs) around my neighbourhood, someone walking past smiled at me and said, "Good for you – go for it girl."
I immediately felt more upbeat, and that positivity continued to the end of my run. I felt good. Words of encouragement, whether to someone at the pinnacle of their game like the Olympic champions or to an amateur and reluctant runner like me, have a big positive impact.
And it’s no different in the workplace – whether that’s a factory floor or a glass-fronted office; whether you’re dealing with senior professionals or frontline teams – we’re all human beings and we all feel energised and want to give that bit extra when we hear genuine words of encouragement and appreciation.
Reflecting on this during my run, I recalled a different incident that took place over a decade ago. I remember it because of the negative impact. I was cycling along a lovely track on a sunny Sunday morning when I passed two people out walking. Feeling in fine fettle, I smiled and said hello. One of the people walked past, not even looking at me, and muttered, "Bikes aren’t allowed on this path."
Now, I didn’t know that – in fact, when I checked afterwards, I couldn’t find confirmation of her words – but I still felt the negativity of that response, of being slapped down for no good reason. Ultimately, even if I was on the wrong path, there were pleasanter ways to point this out. Her words and attitude still sting more than ten years later.
I’m not unique in this experience. As humans, we remember the needless put-down, the unjustified criticism, long after the event itself has passed. And just as good leaders are generous with their positive comments and praise, they also take care to avoid unnecessary criticisms.
I’m not talking here about genuine feedback on things that need to change or unsatisfactory performance. That’s a necessary – and usually valued – part of building performance and motivation in the workplace. It’s an important part of good leadership and most people want to know what they can improve as well as wishing to hear about what is going well.
But the best leaders today, as they go about their work, are making sure they catch and comment on people doing things right. And they stay away from jibes, throwaway criticisms and cutting comments. The former simple communication practice builds engagement and motivation to win; the latter breeds negativity and drains energy.
Long after people forget exactly what you said, they remember exactly how your words made them feel!
[Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]