Don’t underestimate the power of your own influence. Whether you’re a formal leader or not, people will never forget the impact of lifting, affirming words.
Sincere words of affirmation are effortless and have a disproportionate impact on people’s self-esteem. I can recall, in most cases word-for-word, when someone of influence in my life has paid me a compliment. Last month with my own leader, and more than 30 years ago with a stranger.
Here’s the story: I was about 19, working in a bakery/café in Orlando, Florida. I washed 12-foot stacks of bakery pans, mopped more floors than Carol Burnett, and eventually worked my way up to the front counter serving customers (to this day, my favorite smell is freshly baked bread).
One day, 31 years ago, a couple walked into the café, ordered some pastries, and casually asked for directions. Through a brief exchange, and because of their heavy foreign accents, I discovered they were Israeli. English was clearly their second language, but it was near perfect. They were visiting Florida on vacation and were looking for a store about a mile away. I walked the husband to the front windows and gave him directions.
I don’t recall that it was an especially descriptive or otherwise memorable exchange out of the thousands I’d had in the bakery during high school and college. But this one is burned viscerally in my memory. As if it were yesterday, I can recall what he said to me: “Young man, you have a remarkable command of the English language. That will take you far in life. Keep it up.”
As I look back on my life, this priceless gift he gave me had a positive, deep psychological impact on my self-confidence. For some reason, from that very encounter, I decided, became convinced even, that my strongest skill was and would be my ability to speak well, to communicate clearly, and perhaps influence others.
I find it interesting that the first story about affirming others that came to my mind wasn’t from my parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors, or my own leader—but from a total stranger who I encountered for less than 10 minutes and have never seen since.
You don’t need to wait for a chance encounter, though: you can just as powerfully affirm your own worth and potential. Articulate your strengths and gifts. Tell yourself, “This will take me far in life. Keep it up.”
Watch for those chances to affirm others. Your team members. Your children, your spouse, your siblings…even your own parents. Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to affirm yourself.
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