“Man, that was good.” How getting and receiving praise builds customer relationships and boosts our self-esteem.

I’ll admit I have always been a grateful person.  I always take a minute to say thank you to friends, family, and mostly to people who give great service.  My wife and I are known to ask for the manager in a restaurant when things go well, just to tell them that things were great.  I have done it at the beach, in hotels, fast food, even the grocery store.  I like it because it is the easiest way to reward the people who mostly only hear complaints.

Being in the customer service industry is tough.  We face the wrath of unhappy customers, clients, students, anyone who for whatever reason feels that it is okay to blast the person in front of them because they are handing them money.  It is a tough gig, but those front line people are what makes the business go, and their level of cheerfulness often times makes up for a myriad of troubles down the road.

It can be tough, but empathizing with the person on the other side of the desk often times spreads cheer and makes them more fulfilled in their day.  For example, recently my wife and I were out to a chain restaurant for lunch and it was taking an extended time to get us our food.  Soon the waitress came up to us nervously and told us she was so sorry but she keyed in the order wrong and it never got back to the kitchen.  She stood there waiting to get chastised with her head down and shoulders slouched.  I was mildly perturbed, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  “Well, “I said in a big voice “in that case I guess we are going to need another drink”.  I told her it was okay, mistakes happen and we would like another round of cocktails.  She brightened up and scurried off to the bar.  When the manager came over later he was expecting us to berate the waitress.  Nope.   We told him how impressed we were with the way she owned up to the mistake and how professionally she handled the situation.  He was taken aback big time, food service managers are in the trenches when it comes to customer complaints and rarely hear good things.  He stammered his approval and moved on.  It would have been nice if he and comped our drinks, but that wasn’t our motivation.  Spreading good will is.

Specific and sincere

Being thankful is an easy way to spread good cheer and make connections with people.  Telling someone they did good work, when both of you know they did a good job is a great way to build relationships.  It can however sound hollow if it doesn’t meet two standards: It must be specific and sincere.

Specificity is important.  In our jobs we work hard on many specific individual tasks.  Whether it is on communication, planning, asking questions or even dress, we try to develop our skills to be better in the workforce.  An acknowledgement that the work we are putting in is having a positive effect is a validation that we all seek.

soccer-2As a manager or teacher, the easiest way to build morale and encourage development is as simple as 3 to 1.  For every negative interaction you have with a person, there should be three positive ones.  Three times you have told someone, thank you for each time you are telling them they are doing something wrong. This can be tough, sometimes we just need them do fix what we need them to fix and we don’t have time to count our interactions.  That is why building a positive culture takes time.  Comments such as “Thanks for getting here on time today” or “I like the way you have cleaned up your desk”, or even “Good job following directions”. Make the time you need them to stop doing what they are doing and make corrections much more impactful and doesn’t lead to hurt feelings.

Notice that each of the praises we talked about is linked to something specific that the employee or student can identify with.  “Good job today” can be nice to hear, but it doesn’t recognize anything specific and bounces off.  I remember my wife’s response after she had just slaved over an 8 course Thanksgiving meal.  She had worked for days shopping, planning, prepping, and cooking and I naively responded with “Thanks, that was good”.  “Good?? She exclaimed, “What was good?  Was it the turkey, the potatoes, the dressing, the desert?  What was good?”  Somehow “It was all good” didn’t seem like the best response.  “The gravy was amazing” I replied.  “It may have been the best you have ever done and it complimented everything”.   It was great gravy, she knew it and was excited I enjoyed it.  Giving her the credit where credit was due made her feel over the moon.

As far as being sincere, this may be the most important part of gratitude.  A lack of sincerity rings hollow and can make matters worse.  Telling someone they did an amazing job when they know it wasn’t their best effort is a great way to undermine your credibility and destroys the opportunity to praise someone when they really deserve it.

Imposter Syndrome

imposterGratitude is not something that comes easy to everyone.  The idea for this article came from an old student who read something I wrote and reached out to me to say thanks.  As much as I love giving praise, I am horrible at taking it.  I always feel like I didn’t do as good of a job as everyone thinks I did and it is disingenuous of me to take it.  This is sometimes called the “Imposter Syndrome”.  Imposter syndrome is a relatively common ailment that higher achieving people suffer from.  It comes from an inability to internalize their accomplishments and the belief that they will be found out as a fraud.

Imposter syndrome is much more common than most people think.  Maya Angelou, actor Tina Fey, and even several US presidents have struggled with it.  They felt that at any given moment they were going to be exposed and people were going to find out that they didn’t know as much as people gave them credit for.   Much of the guilt and fear come from feeling we have not done enough.  That all the work and time we put in was for self-preservation and not to get better.  We reach for and at times achieve lofty goals and somehow we don’t take the time to relish all that we have accomplished.

I have talked to many people who share this feeling and we have a couple of tricks that have helped us keep this animal at bay.

  • Understand that being perfect is not the goal. Many times we feel that if we had only done X then Y would not have occurred how could they think highly of me when X has not happened?  If 80% of your kids passed a test, or you met 9 of your 10 sales goals, it does not mean you failed and are at fault.  Accept what you have accomplished and take pride in that.
  • Luck had nothing to do with it. Your success came from working hard, having talent, and intelligence.  In sports you hear about people being “A natural athlete”.  Well that natural athlete puts in hours in the gym and on the practice field.  They studied and kept going when others quit.  To say it is a gift shortchanges the work that was put in.
  • Cut yourself some slack. If you are always comparing yourself to some monolithic person, or somebody else’s expectations, then you are always going to be coming up short.  Author Margie Warrell says that “Too often we compare our insides with other people’s outsides”.    If all we do is try and keep up with how we perceive others we will never win
  • Just go for it. Sometimes the biggest way to assure ourselves is to risk greatly and go for it.  One of my best friends always dreamed of opening a restaurant.  An amazing cook he just decided one day to put all his chips on the line and open a restaurant.  He is aware of the risks and undertakings, but his belief in himself is pushing him to achieve.  He has no time for self-doubt.

With this in mind, I proudly accepted that student’s gratitude.  She was/is an amazing person and has always been in my heart.  I just hope that she and so many of my kids realize that I got every bit as much out of them as they did from me.  I am grateful for them, and don’t mind telling them when I see them.

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