Focus On The Good; Not The Bad


It may have started at home as a child:

“You brushed your hair nicely and I’m glad you brushed your teeth, but your room is a mess.”

Then in school it was:

“Gets along with others, does excellent in Math but could be better in History.”

As a teenager dating:

“You’re kind and thoughtful, but I wish you were taller.”

Finally as an adult the boss says:

“You’re hitting your targets and I’m pleased with your energy, but you could participate more in team meetings.”

Many people will identify with having heard comments such as the above. When you look back at each of them, there’s two positives and one to work on; two good and one bad, two strengths and a weakness. Depends how you hear it, interpret it and understand it.

These comments and their impact divides people into two groups: those that heard the positives and are uplifted and feel good about themselves, and those who zeroed in on the one thing that they aren’t doing well and need to improve upon. Which type are you generally?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been instructing a class of a dozen people who are just learning to use the computer. It’s computer basics, starting pretty much with how to turn it on. We’ve covered terminology, creating and using email, crafting a resume using MS Word, exploring the internet, using job search skills, working with a USB Flashstick, navigating employment websites, and applied for jobs. For absolute beginners, we’ve accomplished a great deal.

Yesterday I gave each person a 13 step assignment which would give them a chance to independently use their skills. Everyone found they could do more than half of the assignment entirely unaided. I’d guess it was around step 8 or 9 where the majority had to pause and ask for help from someone. No shame in that by the way; asking for help with the computer is something I see all the time in workplaces. Eventually the whole class did complete the assigned work, and I made sure to remind them to focus not on what they failed to remember and needed help with, but focus rather on all the things they did correctly and did remember on their own. What each accomplished far outweighed where they struggled.

You see, I believe that people don’t hear the good in themselves as much as they need to. Some in fact, have gone long stretches of time without hearing much at all from anyone when it comes to positive feedback. I think successful people hear and internalize the good when they get mixed feedback, whereas those who tend to only hear the suggestions for improvement tend to have a lower self-image of themselves. Sure we can all improve, but my goodness, there’s so much I see to praise in people.

But surely some of you are thinking, we can’t go around telling people how awesome they are and how great they are doing when in fact they aren’t! If we don’t point out their shortcomings and their faults how are they to improve? I had a boss like that once. He told me it was his job to point out all the little things I was doing wrong when doing one of my yearly performance appraisals. Yet on a daily basis he was happy with my performance. That comment he made during a 3 hour (yep, he thought a 3 hour appraisal was how best to motivate people) meeting where he did nothing but point out little things I could do better resonated with me then and still does 25 years later. His words were, “It’s not my job to point out what you’re doing right, but to point out all the things you’re doing wrong so you can improve.” I started job searching the next day and soon got a better job, more income, and worked at a higher level in the new organization. Oh he motivated me alright.

Perhaps it is the consistent memory of that bad experience that has given me great empathy for people I lead, partner with and instruct. If like me, you are in a position of some authority or influence in your job, it is a responsibility of ours to build up rather than beat down. It’s far too easy to point out what others are doing wrong, where they can improve, how to be better. It’s just as easy to point out successes, achievements, label and reinforce accomplishments. Why not choose to emphasize the good?

The thing is, you and I; we really don’t intimately know the past of many people we interact with daily. We can read notes in a file, but the person is so much more rich and layered than some file. We don’t know how many times they’ve had people they trusted and respected tell them they could do better, BE better. Could be they honestly feel they’ll never measure up; they’ll never be good enough.

Imagine then – and it’s not too hard really – how impactful you and I might be if we built people up with genuine positives. Genuine of course, not invented, but positive comments and praise. Then imagine if that same person heard some good from someone else, then a third person. Why we might actually see people believe more in themselves, like themselves better and build successfully on their successes.

And that my reader, is pretty cool.

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