One of my favorite stories about encouragement comes from Scott Adams (yes, the Dilbert cartoonist). He recounted the time he took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking, and what happened to one extremely nervous participant:
The first day was grim. One woman stood frozen in front of the group, unable to generate an intelligible word. Beads of sweat literally dripped off her chin. It was horrible to watch. She choked out a few words and returned to her seat, defeated. Our instructor came to the front of the room and said, “Wow. That was really brave.”
What an amazing response. Given how badly things went, everyone expected the focus to be on her shortcomings. But the Dale Carnegie course approach is to compliment the speaker on what she does well, and not mention the flaws.
And according to Adams, recognizing her bravery had a dramatic effect.
We all knew it was true. This woman had put her head in the lion’s mouth. Suddenly we all realized we had witnessed something important. We applauded. And it changed her. Each week, she managed a little bit more. And each week the instructor and the class recognized her achievement. By the end of the course, everyone in the class was an exceptional speaker, and we all looked forward to our few minutes in front of the class. It was like witnessing a frickin’ miracle.
We all know that criticism tends to divert our energies into defending our positions and protecting our egos. But even less harsh commentary on what went wrong focuses our attention on the negative. Positive feedback keeps enthusiasm and motivation high. Perhaps taking that to an extreme creates even greater impact than we can hope.