Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Love Languages: Words of Affirmation

Words are powerful. Some people feel them more than others. Negative words replay through your head, dragging you down. The flip side is that positive words can replay and lift you up. Yet let me ask you this.....how many times do we complain? How many times do we encourage? We go to a restaurant and the service is terrible, the waiter is rude, the service is slow, the order is wrong and we want the manager! We want it fixed! How many times is the service good and we don't say a word? We just assume people don't need to be told or think that is just their job so we don't need to comment! Personally, I make it a point to leave a note or word of encouragement on those occasions. I hunt down the manager and make a point to say something GOOD about good service.

I've heard it said that for every negative thing we hear, we need to hear 5 positive things to counteract it. I've heard it takes 10 or 20 positives. But I don't think of it as a tally sheet. You learn from the negative AND the positive, but you feel better learning from the things you are doing right! So what do we do? We get in the habit of using more positive things than negative in our daily lives with everyone!

So what exactly are words of affirmation?

Praise: recognizing and acknowledging accomplishments and efforts SINCERELY! Fake things do no good! People know when you are just sicking up and when you are being real! You can praise even failures as long as you are genuine in recognizing the effort.

Affection: Not just the words "I love you" even though that can be very important too. But people we care about need to hear that they are important and valuable to us. They need to hear that we recognize and acknowledge the things in their life that are important to them and that we see those things as positive, even if they are not equally important in our lives. I may not LOVE to do the same things as my husband or children, but I can encourage them to pursue the things that make them happy instead of grumbling about the time, effort or money those pursuits take. This is MORE than a generic "good job" occasionally.

Affirmation and Acknowledgement: Not only do the people around us want us to affirm them, but they want us to do it in public too. Think about it, when someone tells you something positive about yourself, it feels good. When they tell you that same thing in front of other people, it feels even better. We perceive it to be more real or true.

So now that we have touched on the basics of words of affirmation: praise, affection, affirmation, acknowledgement; we need to talk about what it really looks like to give and receive it.

Some guidelines for giving words of affirmation include being genuine, being timely and being low key. When we are genuine, people can tell. It is more than just the words we say. It involves tone, facial expressions, body language...things that go beyond the words we are saying.

You have probably all had an experience where someone has said all of the right words but you just knew they didn't mean it. My mom used to tell me "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" and I would add "AND MEAN IT!" People aren't stupid. They can tell when something being said is genuine. Actually, things that are not really meant are almost more harmful that things not said at all.

As we think about timely words of affirmation, we need to think about how it feels to have someone react with an immediate and excited "Great job!" or a comment hours later that usually sounds like "Oh, by the way, you did a great job earlier." Which one feels better to hear? Are both words of affirmation? Sure, but one feel like an afterthought or obligation rather than a true reaction. As we look to give words of affirmation to others, we need to think about how we would feel if someone said that thing in that way to us. Would it uplift and encourage or instill doubts about the sincerity?

Then we have that low key part....I know, I just talked about doing it in public or immediately, but it also needs to not be overblown, over-the-top or excessive. If someone tells you the same thing in the same excited voice about 10 times and always in front of others, it starts to feel fake. You start to think they are trying to convince themselves, others and you that what they are saying is truth. Maybe it is, but this behavior can lead to doubts. That doesn't mean never affirm in front of others. It just means keep it believable.

In addition to knowing how to GIVE words of affirmation, we need to know how to RECEIVE them. I admit, I a particularly bad at this. I do not say thank you with grace and accept that people mean what they say even when they are following all of the above guidelines! I still doubt. I still try to deny, undermine or blow off what they are saying. It makes me uncomfortable and I never quite know what to say. Responding in that way does a great disservice to the people giving the words of affirmation. When people compliment you, graciously accept with a polite and heart felt thank you. Do not try to deny their words or opinion. Do not negate their blessing in that way. It isn't always easy and we are tempted to say "thanks but....." and try to explain away their words. We need to not do that.

Here are some questions to ponder.

Can you think of examples of words of affirmation that were obviously genuine? What gave you that confidence?

Do you regularly give words of affirmation? Why or why not?

How do you react when people give you words of affirmation? Why do you think you react that way? Is that a good reaction or not?

This can be a really touchy subject for a lot of people and that is why it is so important to learn the healthy way to both give and receive words of affirmation! We don't want to hurt someone else with our efforts to bless them or their efforts to bless us!

Have a wonderful day!

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