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“A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my work with people in career transition, a theme that recurs time and again is the desire for recognition.  According to human psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the desire to be accepted and valued by others is a basic human need. And, additional research has shown that employees judge their self worth through the respect they receive and, respect and dignity bolsters an individual’s worth as a human being.

This point was brought home to me last week when I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant in a Positive Psychology certification program. During the course of 9 months I am collaborating with 9 colleagues to support the students’ learning. During the on-site portion of the program, participants experience “filling the buckets” of their classmates; a technique to identify and acknowledge the strengths of others based on the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing.

Prior to the end of the class the teaching assistants did this for each other. The power of not only receiving positive feedback from my peers, but the act of giving it was profound. It built immediate trust among 10 people who barely knew each other beforehand. In the words of my colleague, Dr. Suzan White, “it is rare to take a moment to be this supportive and kind to colleagues, friends, family or anyone else for that matter. The effect was transformative.”

Research by psychologist Fredrickson and Losada has shown that when the ratio of positive acknowledgement vs. criticism is 3:1 or higher, employees are more productive, creative and healthier. Feedback from my coaching clients shows that the ratio is often skewed in the opposite direction.  The increasing demands of business, a biological propensity for the brain to focus on negatives and, lack of knowledge of social science research are likely factors leading to this phenomenon. So, if you beat yourself up for taking negative feedback to heart, know that you’re not alone.

The good news is that you have control over much of the negativity in your work environment; more than you realize. You may not be able to change a faultfinder manager, but you do have control over how you treat others around you. For one, expressing appreciation or gratitude has as much positive benefit for the giver as it does for the recipient. And, self-worth improves by expressing gratitude on a regular basis and trains the brain to focus on positive rather than negative experiences, leading to greater levels of happiness.  Also, keeping track of your accomplishments and praise you’ve received can counterbalance the effects of an unsupportive boss.

So, please excuse me while I read my file of atta girl emails!

Exercise:

  1. Find opportunities to compliment your co-workers and even your manager on a regular basis. This praise should be meaningful and authentic. For example you might say, “thank you for the way in which you helped me brainstorm a solution to the supply chain issue. It helped me resolve the issue in record time.”
  2. Start a kudos file.  Keep a journal with feedback you received along with emails you’ve received that have made you feel good.  Read them periodically, especially on days when you need a positivity boost.