My friend, Lorri, wanted to set me up on a blind date with her boyfriend’s friend, Scott. But Scott and I wanted a “preview” before we agreed to an official date. So on a sunny day in the fall of 1984, Scott and I “accidentally” ran into each other outside of a dorm on the campus of Texas A&M. After a brief introduction, Scott looked down and said, “You have really small, cute feet.” And that one sincere and unusual compliment began our 33 year (and counting) relationship and marriage! A compliment is defined as a polite expression of praise or admiration. In a 2012 study, scientists found proof that people perform better when given a social reward after completing an exercise. Professor Norihiro Sadato explained, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded cash.” What? Is that why we “pay” compliments? Look, deep down inside, we ALL love the gold star, the pat-on-the-back, the “way to go” at the end of a task or performance. So why don’t we give compliments more often? Why don’t we take the time to praise, admire, or appreciate others? I honestly think we don’t give more compliments because we just don’t think about the value of such statements. Technology has moved us away from strong face-to-face connections with emails, texts, and social media. The goal seems to be to communicate in as few letters or words as possible. As we have thinned out our communication messages, I think that we cut compliments because we think that they don’t really matter. We feel constructive criticism is necessary to help better a situation, but compliments definitely produce more bang-for-the-buck because both the giver and receiver benefit. Sincere compliments build trust, encourage creativity, produce positivity, and strengthen relationships - for both participants. And best of all -- compliments are free! But strive to make compliments genuine, sincere, and focused on the important stuff, not just appearance. A few years ago, I (with a group of dedicated teacher-friends) worked out at a gym full of serious (and much stronger) athletes. The “old ladies” (as we called ourselves) worked at our own pace surrounded by younger, more fit “teens” (as we called the others). As teachers, we know the value of a compliment as motivation, so as we worked out, we complimented each other often, and over time, we found our areas of “expertise”! We crowned Melanie the best runner, Christi the best tire-flipper, Melinda the best long jumper, and I became the best … planker! I can totally plank - for a really long time! You may laugh at our titles, but complimenting each other really helped us to work harder and feel good about it. etc Strategies believes that giving compliments is an important part of communicating, both professionally and personally. Work to find a way to express praise or admiration to others. Make it a daily habit to compliment someone for a job well done. And you are welcome to use Scott’s compliment about my feet (if it fits!). It certainly worked for both of us!
Don’t panic -- this blog is totally G-rated and doesn’t involve any “private” behavior in the shower. But I just feel that it is time for a little confession. I get the very best ideas … in the shower. When I needed to come up with the best theme for Austin’s 3rd birthday party, I took a shower and created a fun-packed cowboy party with “Pin the Sheriff Badge on the Sheriff” and panning for gold using a kiddie pool with sand, water, and a few pieces of treasure. When I needed a creative activity to teach research skills, I took a shower and developed “Re-think! Re-act!” where students would research a current topic that the public should critically analyze like wearing head protection for soccer or the dangers of energy drinks (actual student topics for the project). When I needed an interactive activity to share how difficult it is to create tone in emails and text messages, I took a shower and remembered that State Farm commercial where the phrase “What a day!” had completely different meanings based on the circumstances. And amazingly, I’m always able to come up with that needed idea in the shower (although at times it takes more than one shower). While I see nothing unusual about this creative environment, some might find this process a bit crazy. My students always laughed when I began a new learning activity with, “When I was in the shower last week, I came up with this great idea!” For a computer class project, one of my students even created a fun notepad with “Mrs. Hardegree Thinking Pad” at the top and a cartoon character in the shower. He told me to keep the pad in the bathroom so I can write down my ideas as soon as I finished in the shower. But recently I discovered that science backs up my claim. In the article, “Why Do You Get Your Most Creative Ideas in The Shower?” Yoram Solomon shares research that shows that creativity can best occur when your brain is resting, like in the shower. When my friend Nancy texted me that article, I was overwhelmed with validation! I knew that taking a shower always helped me to creatively think, but I thought it was just me. Now I can I share my method with others to try. So the next time you need a creative idea, try taking a shower … or find some other activity that allows your brain to relax and rest a bit. Maybe sit in the backyard and listen to the birds. Maybe take a walk in the evening after work. etc Strategies believes that finding a way to allow you to be more creative (like taking a shower) can help you find new ideas. And these ideas can lead to greater productivity, less stress, and a better connection with others. But get a good body scrubber - you can totally take care of your skin while you are coming up with brilliant ideas!
On this very special day of love, according to a survey by American Express, over 6 million couples will likely get engaged. I imagine there will be lots of bended knees, shaky hands with ring boxes, and more than a few tears of joy. Scott proposed to me at a very romantic Italian restaurant where he had worked as a busboy during high school. He didn’t get down on one knee (the tables were a bit too close together to provide room for that position), but over candlelight and soft music, he took my hands, looked me in the eyes, and quietly asked me to marry him. I of course said yes, and the chef and owner (watching from the other side of the room) immediately brought over champagne and showered us with well wishes! Being engaged moved our relationship to a long-term connection. But did you know that “being engaged” can also move communicating to connecting to others? I “propose” to you that on this Valentine’s Day you also become engaged. Now don’t worry … I don’t mean engaged to be married. I mean to become engaged in your daily communication experiences. As I have shared before, research shows that striving for stronger connections with co-workers makes for a happier and more productive work environment. And it’s easy to become more “engaged.” First, when communicating, make sure that you are facing the person(s). Make eye contact and focus your complete attention as you speak AND listen. Second, avoid all distractions, externally and internally. If your phone vibrates or chimes, wait. You heard me … wait … at least until there is a break in the conversation and you can say, “Excuse me for just a second. I need to check this phone call.” And work to focus your thoughts on the conversation and not on other aspects of your day or on how you might respond to the speaker. Finally, value the conversation and respect the other person’s time and attention. Find something important to take away from the experience. Perhaps the conversation provided important information about a work-related topic. Perhaps the conversation provided a chance to get to know your co-worker. etc Strategies believes that being engaged in a communication experience can help create stronger connections to others. And this communication strategy can be the Valentine’s Day gift that keeps on giving and giving.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Julie and Karen
Last night, as I diligently worked on my training for Wednesday, my husband offered to pick up our dinner at Whataburger. Don’t judge -- we both had super healthy lunches, and I didn’t get to the grocery store like I planned because I was working!! Anyway, I asked for a Whataburger with cheese, my usual. A bit later, he walked through the door, orange and white sacks in hand. At this point I was starving, so I enthusiastically opened the bag and saw the cheeseburger with a half-eaten order of French fries. Confusion set in as I opened the second bag to a regular hamburger, no fries in sight. What??? Where were my French fries? “You only asked for a Whataburger with cheese; you didn’t ask for French fries,” my husband explained. We have been married almost 30 years, and he thought I would only want a cheeseburger? What is wrong with him? Have I ever eaten a cheeseburger without French fries? I was unbelievably upset … I LOVE French fries! To make up, he offered the rest of his fries (about 7 were left after his nibbling on the way home). But guess what? Our miscommunication was totally my fault. I should have asked for a cheeseburger and French fries and not assumed he could “read my mind” and know what I truly wanted. How many times have we miscommunicated because we did not specifically say what we wanted? One year, Santa brought me a set of golf clubs. Remember my Top Golf story? I suck at golf! So why did Santa bring me a gift that I didn’t ask for or even really want? Because when “Santa” (my husband) asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said anything would be great! But I certainly did NOT mean golf clubs. Again, the miscommunication was my fault, not Santa’s. etc Strategies believes that both professionally and personally, you must be specific when communicating. Find a way to be positive and professional but never assume that others will know what you are thinking. And ALWAYS ask for the French fries ...