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Catch them doing something right

February 4, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

In my role as resident curmudgeon and chief dragon-slayer, it is often my duty to draw attention to controversial or unsavory situations, such as emperors or other public figures prancing around without any clothes (literally or figuratively).

This does not mean that I am averse to giving equal time to positive situations, such as when the emperor is sporting a natty new suit.

My point though, has nothing to do with emperors or clothes, it is about recognizing the good as well as the bad in the world around us.

I was reminded of this concept recently when I received a missive from a sagacious gentleman whose opinion I respect.

It was a thoughtful message, and it began, “All too often these days, it seems that we only take time to criticize others and rarely offer congratulations on a job well done.”

He is absolutely right.

The fact that he took time out of his day to share some comments about a piece that I wrote brightened my day, as approbation tends to do, even for a cynical scribe.

As a writer, one must crank out thousands of words each week and cast them to the four winds. It is nice, every now and again, to hear that some of those words have reached their mark.

We all know from experience how powerful and welcome personal recognition can be when we are on the receiving end, and yet we often forget to share positive comments with others.

No doubt we have the best intentions, and sincerely mean to compliment someone or share our thoughts about something that someone has done well, but we don’t always get around to it.

We get busy, we get distracted, or perhaps we just forget.

We seem less likely to forget when we are dissatisfied with something.

Even very busy people seem to be able to find time in their day to criticize others or complain about things that they don’t like, but somehow they aren’t quite able to find time to give kudos when someone has done an exceptionally good job.

Back in the dark ages, when I was a young supervisor taking management and supervision classes, I was exposed to a very simple principle that I have never forgotten.

The concept is “catch them doing something right.”

The idea is that, as managers, we should look for things that our staff members are doing well, and nurture these things and build on them, rather than pouncing on every little mistake people make.

Of course, there are times when corrective action is needed, and we may have to wait quite a long time for some yahoos to do something right, but as a general principle, positive reinforcement is a pretty good tool.

And, it is not limited to the workplace. We can employ it in every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

There are people all around us muddling their way through life. Mediocrity is rampant, and excellence is a rare jewel that deserves recognition.

We have both the power, and the duty to encourage exceptional performance.

If, for example, the person who is making six bucks an hour working at a local emporium exceeds our expectations and helps us find exactly what we need, we should let him know that we appreciate it, and better still, we should take the time to let his boss know.

Far too often, employers hear complaints about their employees, but they don’t hear the success stories, and that is unfortunate.

There are people out there doing amazing things, not because they are monetarily compensated for doing them, but because they care about others and they take pride in what they do.

It is sad that sharing success stories is such a rare occurrence in our society.

Why is it that we focus on complaints rather than compliments?

Does it make us feel better when we complain about someone or something?

I concede that it may be entertaining, but I really don’t believe it makes us feel better. Perhaps if we really want to feel better, we should do something to help someone else or compliment her for her accomplishments.

This does not mean giving someone a dose of the old oil just because we want something from her. People can see through hollow flattery very quickly. A simple, but sincere expression of how we feel is all that is required.

It is just possible that by making a small effort, we will improve someone else’s life in ways that we will never see.

For my part, I will continue to write about sartorially-challenged emperors, morons, scoundrels, and the absurdities of life, but every so often, I may just take the time to write about someone who is doing good in the world and making things better for those around him.

It may not make for the most piquant copy, but it may be the right thing to do.

For those who have been meaning to let someone around you know that they are doing a good job or making a difference in your life, don’t wait for tomorrow. Do it today. It doesn’t cost anything but a moment of your time, and the results can be priceless.

Catch them doing something right, and acknowledge it, and they may just do it more often.