A source of praise
Years ago I was a teacher and coach at a small Catholic girls high school in Southern California. I learned a valuable lesson while there that continues to guide my interactions with others to this day.
I was a volleyball player in high school and college (USVBA-rated for a while) and was an assistant coach at a Division III college. When the opportunity arose to take a teaching position and serve as varsity volleyball coach at the high school, I jumped at it. (No volleyball pun intended.)
I began working with the team, building fundamental skills in passing, setting, hitting, and defense. The previous two coaches of the team had little experience with competitive volleyball so these young women were starting from scratch with me.
I instituted a defensive system and offensive plays that leveraged the players’ skills and understanding of their individual roles, and the team responded well. We began having successes (winning games!) after years of being the doormat team in a very competitive coastal league.
I had just married at the time and inherited two step-children – Karin, then 14 years old, and Andy, 10 years old. I never had kids of my own so I was a total klutz as a stepdad. My wife Diane tried to guide me. There were moments when I was teachable.
Karin was a high school volleyball player at the time so love of the game created some neat practicing and bonding opportunities for the two of us.
Once a week, Karin would finish her practices then scurry over to our gym where she helped run drills for my team for an hour or so. After practice, Karin and I would grab a quick bite to eat then head to the local recreation center for three hours of doubles play. The local community was filled with very good volleyball players – we lost more than we won. We got better as the season wore on but never were one of the top teams at the center.
A few months after our weekly “volleyball nights” began, I was driving Karin home after a very good showing one evening. We’d played well and took some matches against teams that regularly beat us. We were both pleased and sweaty and tired.
Karin turned to me and said, “You’re a really good volleyball coach. You work hard to let your team members know what you expect of them. You break down skills into specific steps they master, and praise them when they’re doing things the way you want them to.”
Wow! I was really pleased to hear Karin say that. I’ll admit, I puffed up a bit, thinking, “Karin thinks I’m a good coach . . . ”
Then Karin said, “You never praise me.”
Clunk. I stuttered a bit, and told her, “Well, I have higher standards of you.”
Karin said, “That’s not fair.”
A couple of minutes of silence let me figure out what to say – and do! – next. I apologized, saying she was right, I wasn’t being fair. I remember trying to praise her for her efforts that evening, and got a small smile out of her. In the months (and years) following, I tried to be more aware of what Karin was doing right – on and off the volleyball court – and believe I improved in expressing my gratitude at her skills and contributions, and became a source of praise.
That conversation happened 35 years ago. Karin’s insights helped me realize that I have a very well honed skill at catching people doing things WRONG. If I want to be an effective influencer, I need to catch people doing things RIGHT. I work on this every day, with clients, peers, and bosses. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better. Practice makes perfect!
What helps prompt you to express thanks and gratitude for others’ efforts and contributions? Share your insights in the comments section below.
(Revised from the original June 2010 post on DrivingResultsThroughCulture.com)