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Encourage Others, Heal the World #109

Warwick Fairfax

March 22, 2022

It’s easy to feel discouraged these days. War has broken out in Ukraine, the COVID pandemic is weakened but not gone and our economy continues to struggle. That’s the challenging news. The hopeful news is that the time has never been better to do our part to help each other weather the storms we’re experiencing. And the best place to begin doing that is by encouraging each other. This week, host Warwick Fairfax and cohost Gary Schneeberger discuss the impact and practice of encouragement. You’ll learn the seven key steps to becoming a master encourager, from paying attention to being specific, from giving positive feedback often to always making sure it’s sincere.

Highlights

  • How encouragement fuels a life of significance (5:01)
  • The Harvard Business review on the importance of encouragement (8:16)
  • Step 1: Pay attention (11:49)
  • The practice Gary and his wife do every year to pay attention to things to encourage each other about (12:28)
  • Step 2: If you see something, say something (16:49)
  • Step 3: Be specific (20:42)
  • The power of personal, written notes (24:00)
  • Step 4: Tell others (27:21)
  • Why are we talking about encouragement, anyway? (31:21)
  • Step 5: Give positive feedback often (34:12)
  • The research that backs up the need to give positive feedback often (37:07)
  • Point 6: Be sincere (42:07)
  • Point 7: The power of encouragement (43:35)
  • Questions to ponder about the importance of encouragement (51:44)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible, I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership. I really believe that encouragement can change the world. I mean, we live in a world that’s divided, there’s war on as we speak, division, discouragement, fear, uncertainty, but when you encourage somebody else and they in turn encourage others and you have encouragement spreading like water spreading out on dry land, you’ll see grass growing, flowers blooming. It makes a tremendous difference if we had everybody think, “Okay, what can I encourage somebody today in?” It would encourage people to bounce back more.

Gary S:

The world just described is not a utopia, it’s a reality we can all create by becoming intentional about offering one of the most effective antidotes to staying stuck in our crucible experiences, giving and receiving encouragement. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. This week, Warwick and I discuss his new blog on the impact and practice of encouragement. You’ll learn the seven key steps to becoming a master encourager from paying attention to being specific, from getting positive feedback often to always making sure it’s sincere. I even get the chance to shock Warwick with the results of a study that found for every one criticism you tell someone, you need to counterbalance it with … Well, you’ll have to listen to find out what that number is. You just might be shocked by it too.

Gary S:

One of the things I’m going to love about this conversation as it unfolds is that, it works on two tracks. There’s professional kinds of encouragement as a leader, as a teammate, in the workplace, and then there’s also personal kinds of encouragement. The principles behind them are the same, but we get to explore our business leadership muscle here, Warwick, as well as our self-help muscle here. Explain a little bit about, as we get started, why you chose encouragement as the topic you wanted to focus on in our dialogue discussion?

Warwick F:

We live in this world where it’s paradoxical that, if ever there was a need for encouragement, it’s right now, but because of the stress produced by understandable fear and division and war, it’s hard to find the actual mental and emotional energy to actually encourage. So we need it a lot, but it’s hard to find it in these sorts of circumstances.

Gary S:

This is a circle of life issue. Right? I mean, as you give encouragement, that then can flow back to you to receive encouragement, sometimes you get encouragement from giving others encouragement. The reaction of someone that you encouraged, the improved either relationship, if it’s personal or performance, if it’s professional, that then encourages you. So I think, to use one of your favorite analogies, it’s a flywheel of sorts. As you encourage you get encouraged. Right?

Warwick F:

It’s really true. It’s one of my highest failures as we’ll get into, I really try to encourage, and as I encourage people and I see them feel encouraged and their spirit lighten a bit, it makes me feel good. One of the things we say on Beyond the Crucible all the time is, we probably say this every single podcast, If today is your worst day, you’re at the bottom of the pit. Yeah, there is obviously some lessons about how you get out of the pit, understanding your design, learn the lessons from your crucible and so forth.

Warwick F:

But part of it is, as you have a vision that’s focused on others, when you focused on others, it just gives you this feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile, you feel better about yourself, you feel encouraged because we were designed as humans to think of others and help others and serve others in the altruistic sense of that word.

Warwick F:

So, it really follows from that same philosophy, is we were designed as we think of others, part of that is encourage them. You can argue with how we’re designed by the designer, whoever that is, but we are designed in a way that when we encourage, we will tend to feel encouraged ourselves, and better about ourselves just because we’re encouraging others. It’s part of our human design that we can’t alter. It’s just the way we are.

Gary S:

Right. I hadn’t thought about it before. I’ve heard you say, I’ve said myself, scores, dozens, hundreds of times, a life of significance is a life lived on purpose dedicated to serving others. One of the ways that you serve others, we think of maybe more active, we’re running a soup kitchen we’re … But encouragement is a way to serve others as you just pointed out. That’s not the easiest, but one that we can all do any day, every day, if we’re paying attention, that seems to be like a good entry point as you’re looking for a life dedicated serving others. It’s a good place to start. Isn’t it?

Warwick F:

It is. I mean, one thought as I’ve been thinking about it is, it all starts with how you look at life. For instance, one of the things we say all the time on Beyond the Crucible is, today could be your worst day, you might have suffered through physical tragedy, abuse, financial loss. It could be your fault, not your fault. Like in case of my financial failure was largely my fault, but you have a choice in life. Are you going to say, “This was unfair, I’m just going to hide under the covers for the next 30, 40, 50 years till all ends?”

Warwick F:

So, in a similar way with encouragement, whether you feel like it or not, whether you feel, “Boy, today has not been a good day, I had a really tough time at work. There’s family issues, kids issues, maybe my kids’ grades at school aren’t that good. Maybe my son or daughter got cut from the team.” Bad stuff happens every day, at times, it feels like. So there’s always reasons to just feel, “Oh, whoa is me.” And just feel down, and I get it. That’s real. I don’t at all minimize that.

Warwick F:

But part of it really is a choice. “Okay, I know today isn’t good, but I’m going to have an attitude that I’m going to try and be grateful for what I can, attitude of gratitude as others have said, but I’m also going to try and have an attitude of encouragement.” So, it really partly … Are you going to look at the glass half empty half full? Part of it is just a way of being, a life philosophy, a set of values that you’re saying, “Okay, irrespective of how tough life is or isn’t, I’m going to have an attitude where I’m going to try and be grateful and I’m going to try to serve others, certainly in this way of encouraging them.”

Warwick F:

So you’ve got to plant that flag in the ground and say, “I am going to do this. I’m going to choose to try and have an encouraging spirit.” It’s the foundational choice. It’s like that choice in the pit, am I going to be overwhelmed by my crucible, or am I going to choose to try to come back from it, as difficult it is? Am I going to choose to try and be encouraging, or am I going to just have an attitude of life is unfair, it sucks, and I’m just going to be angry and frustrated? That’s the only emotion I’m going to think of, anger and frustration. I’m not going to be grateful, I’m not going to try and encourage anybody.” So really, you got to make a life philosophy choice. That’s really probably almost the underpinning to the points we’re about to discuss.

Gary S:

Before we get into the content of the blog, I want to level set us with a quote I pulled from a Harvard Business Review article about the importance of encouragement. It says this, “A recent study from McKinsey & Company …” This article was published just in November of last year, “found that although most employers believe that the large number of people who quit their jobs this year were looking for better compensation, the truth is, most were leaving because they didn’t feel valued and lacked a sense of belonging at work.”

Gary S:

Another study found that receiving more frequent appreciation from our colleagues and managers, doesn’t only make us feel respected, it’s also linked to better performance. So there’s a bottom line reason to do this in a professional context. And I’d argue a bottom line reason to do this in a different sense of a bottom line in relationships because they build stronger relationships, and that is a very helpful thing.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I think that’s such a good point, Gary, that you raised. That’s really, really excellent. Yeah. I’m familiar with studies that basically show, whether you are lower management, middle management, wherever you are in your organization, everybody wants to be compensated fairly. That’s a given. You want to feel like you’re being paid fairly for the work you perform. But once you achieve that, “Yeah, okay. I’m getting paid what other people get paid in my industry. Okay, great, that’s the foundation.” That is certainly necessary, but it’s not sufficient to make you happy at work.

Warwick F:

People beyond getting paid fairly, beyond that, that’s not really motivating. It’s sufficient, but it’s not a motivator in the general sense of the word. So, most people leave work because they don’t get on with their boss, and maybe their boss is not encouraging them, criticizing them. No matter what they do, it’s always wrong. They may be out of tune with the values of the organization. To your point, I’m sure it’s the case, that if your boss encourages you, values you, tells others, “Hey, Jim or Mary’s doing a phenomenal job.” That will not only make you feel encouraged, you will work harder, probably longer hours, more effectively, more productively. It makes just good business sense in addition to moral sense. So you’re right.

Warwick F:

The power of that is absolutely paramount. People that think, for your average person, it’s all about money, it really is not. Beyond getting paid fairly, they want a whole lot more than that. They want to feel like what they do matters and they want to feel like their boss appreciates them and encourages them. It’s critical. In today’s world where people are very mobile, you lose people in a heartbeat if you don’t appreciate them.

Gary S:

Right. And that’s why, listener, we’re doing this podcast, and Warwick wrote his most recent blog on the power of encouragement and the patterns of encouragement, how you can do it. You’d think that Warwick loves the number seven, because his blogs almost always have seven points. The last one had eight, which surprised me, but he has seven points of how you can go about offering encouragement. And again, from my perspective, these apply in the workplace for sure, but they also apply in relationships.

Gary S:

But the first one, Warwick, that you talk about in your blog, and that we’re going to talk about here is to pay attention, which seems counterintuitive. I chuckled there because it’s like, “Okay, it seems rudimentary.” But, nothing happens for your encouragement of others if you’re not paying attention. Right?

Warwick F:

So it’s this attitude of, “I’m going to pay attention and I’m going to look for opportunities to be encouraging. I’m going to have my radar up, my ears open, my eyes open. I’m going to look to be open and aware so that if something happens, I am not going to miss it.” It’s critical.

Gary S:

I’m glad you took it to the place I was talking about in terms of family relationships, because I wanted to share one of the things that my wife, Kelly and I do, and we have done for the last three or four years. It’s a jar, it’s an enormous Mason jar. Look how big it is compared to my head. It’s an enormous Mason jar, and inside of the jar are three by five cards. What we do is, we keep blank three by five cards around the house. Then as we catch one another, right, doing something nice, doing something kind, and we want to encourage the other, we’ll write them down, we’ll date them and write them down for the entire year.

Gary S:

On January 1st of the next year, we’ll pull these things out and these. It’s jammed to the top full of these things. It takes us almost two hours some years to go through all of those notes of, “Hey, thank you for doing this. Wow, I was really impressed when you did this. You’re such a good mom or stepdad or whatever that is that we talk about.” It’s really a beautiful time. Knowing that that jar is there, does fuel exactly what you’re talking about, catching each other doing something good, but also doing something well, doing something that you appreciate about them and being able to express that.

Gary S:

And that doesn’t mean that we don’t talk to each other about things that … We don’t encourage each other 365 days out of the year, we only do it on the first of the year. It’s just a secondary way, and it’s a way to make sure we keep those things top of mind. I even carry three by five cards with me when I travel, so I don’t miss moments when I’m away from home to then come back and stick those in the Mason jar.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Gary, I think that’s just incredible. I think that would be really worthy of doing, listeners. So, you might want to do exactly what Gary and Kelly do. Just write down some three by five cards. I think really the larger point you’re getting to, which I think is important, I mean, for me, it’s one of my highest values. I don’t want to say I do it like breathing the little bit, just because it’s … Yeah, I’m just so focused on, it’s such an important thing for me. I think, find a mechanism, a rhythm. Gary’s mentioned one good rhythm, one of the things that we do, again, you don’t have to do this, and Gary’s one is brilliant.

Warwick F:

I think I’ve mentioned on this podcast before, one of the things we do at birthdays or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is we go around the table, three kids, adults now, from 30 down to 20s, and will say youngest to oldest, what do we most admire about that person? Now, two out of my three kids are writers. So they’ll do the same thing on their cards. And since they’re writers, when it’s about you, there’s like paragraphs and detailed praise with points and…

Gary S:

Subsection two. Yeah.

Warwick F:

Exactly. It’s, “Oh my gosh.”

Gary S:

Footnotes.

Warwick F:

Exactly, exactly. Pretty much. Sometimes they roll their eyes or whatever a little bit and not too much, but it’s like, “Here we go.” But that’s just amazing. You got cards for years and you just remember some of the themes like, “Hey dad, you’re always there at my birthday, at my tennis or soccer or dance recital, what have you.” That’s what we do. I mean, Gary’s is fantastic. That just feels like that’s the platinum gold style level way of encouraging by putting cards down, in addition to doing it during the day, but listener, you figure out your own mechanisms, you don’t have to have a mechanism.

Warwick F:

But like a lot of things in life, sometimes mechanisms help a characteristic that you want to be like muscle memory. It helps to train the muscles in that. So I think mechanisms like that, especially Gary’s, I think, is a fantastic idea.

Gary S:

Which leads us logically to the second point. And this is what I love about these conversations, Warwick, and the blogs that you write that fuel them is that, the points stick together like a stepping stone. Right? First step number one, pay attention. Okay, you’re doing that, then what comes after that? Point number two in your blog in our conversation now is, if you see something, say something. Again, seems a little self-evident, but really in the workday world of how busy things are, that can get past us. Right?

Warwick F:

Absolutely. We all have our sayings. This may be close to the number one thing that I say, number one mantra, if you will, if you see something, say something. By that I mean, if you see something positive, say something. We’ll talk about the negative is not quite so, you don’t always say something just because you see something negative, that you have to think pretty hard about, “Should I say something when …” That’s a whole nother discussion, another podcast. But let’s assume that you have this attitude of gratitude, attitude of thankfulness, glass half full, you’ve got that mindset, you’re paying attention.

Warwick F:

So once you’re paying attention, it may not be a freight train, it might be just this gentle breeze for the trees. When you see something, then say something. I can’t tell you how many meetings, whether it’s … I’m on two nonprofit boards, board meetings, meetings with different teams, family. Sometimes you can see on people’s eyes that they’re thankful, but they’re not saying anything. Again, I’m not trying to throw any organization under the bus, but in a couple of nonprofit boards I’ve been on, there are times in which, whether it’s the head of the organization or sometimes one of the heads of a department, will come to the board and give a presentation, and you’ll be thinking, “Wow, this man, this woman is doing a phenomenal job. Wow.”

Warwick F:

Now, how much will they value the board of the whole organization saying this is great, like a lot. Praise from the boss is great, praise from the board, that’s another level, at least from their perspective. It doesn’t mean we’re more or less important. It’s just more how it works. So, sometimes people will be wrapped up in what’s the next steps, how can we improve on this, how does this report jive with other things I’ve heard?

Warwick F:

You’re thinking about all these analytical things you’re thinking of, which is great, but rather than say, “Wow, Fred, Mary, that was fantastic. What you’re doing here in this ministry or in this part of the organization, it’s fantastic.” I’m not against anybody, it’s just human nature. You get preoccupied with your own thoughts and you’re thinking all these positive thoughts, but you’re not saying anything.

Gary S:

Right.

Warwick F:

It’s just human nature, people aren’t used to encouraging. It’s just not a normal thing that people do. So they’re thinking these positive thoughts, but it’s like, just because you’re thinking of it, how in the world is a person meant to know? They’re meant to be a mind reader? How are they meant to know that you are thinking positive thoughts towards them, unless you open your mouth? There’s no way they’re going to know. I mean, they can’t figure it out by osmosis, by ESP or mind meld or mind reading. I mean, it doesn’t work that way.

Gary S:

And the other thing then that comes from that, if you see something, say something, the something that you say you make in point three of your blog is, be specific. And that to me is extraordinarily important because, like most things in life, the more detail you offer, the more beneficial what you have to say is.

Gary S:

If you see those movies where someone’s on a plane and some emergency happens and a passenger has to fly the plane. Right? They’ve got to be very specific when they get on with their control booth tower and they tell them how to fly. They got to tell them how to do it, they got to be specific. Being specific allows people to really understand what the encouragement is for, and I think then, it fuels more of that behavior as you call it out. Right?

Warwick F:

Absolutely, very well said. It’s one thing to say back to the boardroom examples, somebody comes in and says, “Hey, great job.” That’s better than nothing. That’s okay. I think another example, I’m an elder at my church, evangelical, 2,000-odd person church in Maryland. So, often the pastors we have who preach, pretty much always do a great job. Sometimes somebody say, “Hey pastor, great sermon.” Okay. How often do they say why? Sometimes it’s like, “Okay, what’s that mean?” I mean, thank you, it’s better than bad sermon. It’s a step on the road. It wasn’t like it sucks or I’m leaving or see you. I mean, I guess there are worse feedback.

Warwick F:

But what I always try and do, whether it’s a sermon or I’m on a board or just with other people, I try to be specific. Back to the example of when we go around birthdays and I’m trying to give encouragement and praise to my kids and my wife, I will say, “Hey, I know life has been tough, but you’ve really been persistent. It’s great you got that job. Boy, I admire the fact that, when you’re in that job, you can set and forget, you’re reliable. You don’t miss anything, you’re dependable. And that kind of character is really impressive.” I mean, I try to be very specific. Certainly, in every case, but you better believe with my family.

Warwick F:

So, it’s one thing to say, like a boss comes by and says, “Hey, that was great.” “Okay. Well, what’s that mean?” Or yeah, “you’re a nice person.” “Okay. What’s that mean? How nice?” “Well, you’re kind, you’re compassionate, you’re forgiving. You’re always thinking of others.” “Okay, now I get an idea of what you mean by nice person.” It’s better than nothing. But if you want to go from entry level passing grade to A triple plus, be specific. It makes a massive difference, because one can seem perfunctory. Okay. They really mean it. Just saying it because …

Warwick F:

Being specific is absolutely critical and it shouldn’t be that hard because if you’re thinking nice job or you’re a nice person, there’s got to be a reason behind it. It’s not like, “Oh, I don’t know why I think you’re a nice person.” Be like you with Kelly. I don’t know why I was encouraged by what you did today, I have no clue, but I’m just going to say thank you, Kelly. Of course, there’s a very specific idea of why you appreciate it in that moment. Right? It’s not like there’s amorphous good feelings.

Gary S:

Right. Exactly.

Warwick F:

Right?

Gary S:

Yep. So you said there’s a triple A plus way to do it. I’m going to add some extra credit because I think on this point in particular, on this idea of being specific, I think one of the best ways to do that, and you talked about it a little bit earlier when you talked about giving cards to your family at birthdays where you write things down. I think there’s power, especially when it comes to being specific in a note, a written note, and I found another HBR article that talks about the power of written communications versus verbal communications. And here’s a couple of paragraphs from that article.

Gary S:

“Handwritten notes mean more because they cost more, emails, tweets, texts, or Facebook messages are essentially costless. They’re easy to write and free to send. And you and I produce hundreds of them every day. A recent study indicated the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day. These electronic communications are rarely notable, but handwritten notes are unusual. They take minutes or hours to draft, each word carefully chosen, no undo or auto correct to fall back on.

Gary S:

Drafting one involves selecting stationary, paying for stamps and visiting a mailbox. They indicate investment, and that very costliness indicates value.” This next part blows me away. “If as the US Postal Service notes, we only receive a handwritten letter once every two months. Each of those letters likely means more to us than the cheaper communications we receive each day.”

Warwick F:

Boy, it’s so true. I must confess, I don’t always do that, like breathing. There’s always another level that all of us can reach. But yeah, there’s no question at the very least, I think all of us can send birthday cards, Father’s and Mother’s Day cards to our loved ones. I mean, that’s something and rather than just …

Warwick F:

And it’s okay. You can say, “Well, I got this great Hallmark card” or whatever it is, and the words can be pretty good in there, if not wonderful, and that’s fine. But how about taking an extra few minutes and writing a few sentences about why you appreciate them? So that’s like, it’s better to send a card to your loved one or a friend, it’s better than doing nothing, and a card is better than an email, it’s better than a text. So that’s good. You’re already along the way to what you’re saying, but being more specific in that card of why you love them or admire them, that’s the next level.

Warwick F:

So if you’re going to do a card, and what Gary’s talking about, handwritten note, boy, I don’t know if it’s another level beyond a card, it probably is. That’s rarely will you receive a handwritten note. And yes, if you can find some nice station, that’s extra credit. We live in this world where it’s like nobody writes letters these days. I mean, it’s just so rare. But you’re right, it’s so valuable.

Gary S:

The next point in your blog and in our conversation, point number four, is to tell others. What do you mean by that? Tell others. So we’re encouraging people but telling others. How does that work and why is that important?

Warwick F:

So, it’s funny. One of the things we’re often told is don’t gossip about other people. If you’ve got something to say to somebody, find a way, hopefully, tactfully without throwing hand grenades, talk to them about whatever the issue you have with them or whatever the thing is. But don’t gossip behind their back and say, “Oh, Susie, John, boy, they’re really … Stuff never gets done, and they stab people in the back and they’re just awful people.” On and on you go. But here we talked about, if you see something, say something.

Warwick F:

If you have this positive attitude, obviously you want to start with telling them. But telling other people about them, that can be powerful. So let’s say you’re a coworker with somebody and you’re in a meeting with their boss and somehow it’s relevant. I mean, even if it’s not relevant, it’s like, “John, Sue, boy, they’re …” Maybe you head up a different department. Maybe you’re a peer with their boss. “They really, really bailed me out in marketing. They did some extra research and stuff on the product, gave me what I needed, and it was last minute because the customer just at the very last moment said they wanted a change in the order. Boy, they just went out of their way to help me, and that just made a huge difference.”

Warwick F:

What do you think that person’s going to think? Thank you so much, you just told my boss. I mean, wow. So, whether it’s in a family’s situation, if you’re thinking positively about your husband or wife, it’s okay to tell the kids, “Boy, you’re really lucky to have the mom or dad that you have, whatever it is, because they just did A and B.” It can work with siblings, it can work with all relations. Then with that other person, they’re not just getting encouraged by you, but it’s like, “Hey, I heard John was telling a friend of mine that … or you were telling a friend of mine how good a job I was doing or how nice a person I am. Wow.”

Warwick F:

Even if they don’t know where it originally came from, you might have a whole bunch of people just saying, “Gosh, I’ve had six people just this week say what a fantastic job you’re doing. It’s amazing.” What does that do to that person? So, you want to be … We talk about the flywheel. You want this to be a bit like a flywheel or a forest fire and you light a match and there’s this ground swell of encouragement that comes from so many different sources. So in this case, gossip is one thing when it’s negative, but telling others when it’s positive, of course, the person would love you to tell others if it’s true.

Warwick F:

So, you’ve got to have this attitude of, try to praise people, not just to their face, sounds weird, but behind their back to people that know them. Because that is, they will like that. So, it’s not an either/or, praise them to their face, be specific, but also tell others and be specific. People that know them, that is just huge. It creates this atmosphere of encouragement.

Gary S:

The rule I’ve always had as a leader is correct in private, praise in public. If you’ve got something that you want to tell someone who works for you or with you, again, something that shows appreciation and encouragement as publicly as you can do that, the better, because their coworkers and friends are going to hear the boss say X, Y, and Z about them, and that, again, motivates folks to do better.

Gary S:

I want to level set us here as we’re more than halfway through your seven points, that we’re talking about all of these things, right, in the context of Beyond the Crucible, in the context of crucible experiences. I mean, what would you say, Warwick, to specifically why encouragement is important in the context of maybe someone who’s going through a crucible, someone who’s been through one and is trying to bounce back from one, why is this topic of encouragement something that we’re talking about on this show?

Warwick F:

It’s an excellent question, Gary. I think as we often say, today is the worst day, you’re in the pit, you might feel like life is over, and we’ve heard a number of guests on the podcast who’ve been at a point in their life where they feel literally worthless. Some have felt so bad about it, they’ve even contemplated suicide. I mean, there’s real depth to feeling this worthless. I’m a waste of space. I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, but I certainly went through a time after I failed $2.25 billion takeover, sort of this thought that everything I touch I ruin or destroy. I mean, it’s like, “Look what I did.” I mean, gosh, I was feeling relatively worthless myself.

Warwick F:

So, when you can encourage somebody and say, “Look, I know what you went through was awful. I know you made a big mistake or I know what was done to you is unspeakable, but you are worth something, you are worthwhile. You’re a good person, you are kind, you are smart, you’re intelligent. You have a lot of capacity.” And be specific. I heard somebody the other day say, “Boy, they’re tinkerer, they tinker around with things. They build things out of nothing. They have this really mechanical, creative side, or maybe others they’re a good writer or a good musician.” Whatever it is. When they’re feeling so worthless, when you’re encouraging them to say, “You know what? You are worth something, don’t let what happened to you destroy you. I care about you. You are worthwhile.”

Warwick F:

If all that does is help them get their toe out of bed the next day and put one step forward, that’s huge. So, encouragement can really make a difference between people choosing to get out of bed and choosing to say like, “I’m going to be angry for the rest of my life.” They can literally, I wouldn’t say save them, but be part of the process of helping them come back and leading a worthwhile life. So yeah, absolutely, encouragement. If ever there’s a time you need encouragement, it’s when you’re at the bottom of that pit. That’s when encouragement’s just like this lifeline. It’s absolutely huge.

Gary S:

And point number five in your blog and in our conversation is that, there’s not like a cap on how many times you can do this. You don’t have like, “Oh, I can only do it three times a day or I can only do it to this person once every month.” It’s not like that. So your fifth point is give positive feedback often. Why is that critical?

Warwick F:

Absolutely. This isn’t a one and done kind of thing. Okay, I gave my a coworker or my employee on my team, one positive feedback because, hey, it was a new year’s resolution and it was January one, and so we did it.

Gary S:

Check.

Warwick F:

Back to your example with you and Kelly and the bottle. Like, “Okay, we had that wonderful time. We spent two hours on January 1st, going through the bottle with all the positive feedback.” Yeah, Kelly’s going to have to wait till January 1st next year before she gets any positive feedback. But it’ll be worth, it’ll be amazing. And obviously she jokingly said, “No, it’s not an either/or, it’s both/and.”

Warwick F:

Sometimes, especially if people feel bad about themselves, which if today’s your worst day, probably extremely likely, just saying, “Oh, you can do it. Don’t let what happened to destroy you, or don’t listen to those people, they don’t know you, being down on you.” Yeah, I says, “Okay, great.” And then months go by. Well, those negative thoughts will start to take hold again. It’s almost like weeds. I use that kind of fertilizer, the weed and feed thing once. We’re good. Right? No, you’re not good. You got to use it constantly because the weeds want to keep coming back. The same with negative thoughts and negative emotions.

Warwick F:

It’s almost like a spiritual battle, depending on your spiritual paradigm, there’s the forces of evil and the forces of good. However you look at life. Whenever you see something, say something, not just once. So you see them do something good again, say, “Wow, that was remarkable. I can’t believe what you did. That was incredible, what you did that day.” Or maybe you see somebody encouraging somebody else. “That was incredible what you did, because they really needed it. Boy, thank you for doing that.”

Warwick F:

I mean, to get that flywheel effect, you got to pay attention, see something, say something, be specific, tell others. But you got to do it more than once. Because there’s a battle for the soul out there. A battle between being depressed and down and between encouraged, and people need as much encouragement as they can get often. Because life is not easy every day, it seems like you might get hit in the gut with something. Life is not Disneyland. It’s not easy. People need encouragement often.

Gary S:

And that, listener, is not just an opinion of the host of the show, Warwick Fairfax, that is a truth backed up by research. I’ve found the Harvard Business Review article, which talked about a study that found how many positive comments, how much encouragement is needed compared to a piece of criticism. In other words, for the two to balance out, and for every thing that you say that’s critical to someone, you should say this number of positive encouraging things. You want to take a guess or you want me just to tell you, how many positive encouraging things for one critical one?

Warwick F:

Well, why don’t you tell me?

Gary S:

All right. It is 5.6 encouraging comments for every critical comment. Now, you couldn’t see Warwick’s face here unless you’re watching on YouTube. He was shocked by that. Why were you shocked by that?

Warwick F:

I was going to say three to one, but wow, 5.6 to one that is just staggering.

Gary S:

And the article from which that statistic comes says this about why that number could be so high. It says, only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we found with the vast majority of leaders in our database, this is Harvard Business Review, who have no outstanding weaknesses, that positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improvement.

Gary S:

And then check out this statistic, focusing on their strengths enabled 62% of this group to improve a full 24 percentage points in their work, how productive and how good their work is. That’s incredible. That’s an incredible statistical testament to what we’ve been talking about here today.

Warwick F:

Absolutely, Gary. And notice what Gary was just saying is, how offering encouraging comments can really help productivity and take people to the next level. We often think, “Oh, but I need to give them negative feedback so that they’ll know and can improve.” Well, yeah. You’re doing it the right way, it can be helpful. But I think what it’s saying is, encouragement is almost more helpful than the so-called constructive feedback. I think one of the challenges is, I hear, I know people, even folks that are really good managers that will say, “Look, don’t tell me the positive stuff, I want to improve. Please tell me the negative.”

Warwick F:

And that’s said with the best of intention, because they honestly want to get better. So I politely say, I can think of one person I have in mind that says, “No, I’m going to give you the positive anyway, because you may not want it, but you got to get it.” I don’t say it quite that bluntly. But yeah, I think the human psyche is such that, like when we do these cards at birthdays, it’s hard for me to process that positive feedback. If you ask me half an hour later, “What specifically did they say?” I’ll say well let me get that card out again. It’s hard for me to remember, to be honest, because for most of us, positive feedback is hard for us to accept. We tend to be all broken souls.

Warwick F:

Now you say, ask me a week later about the negative feedback, I’m probably going to remember that one. Get to see it, the pain serves to help us remember. Negative feedback is so often remembered, I think that’s partly why the ratio, you talked about 5.6 to one is … Encouragement is not easy to accept, which is why we need to do it often and be consistent, so that somebody’s self image of themselves, which often is not positive, tends to change. There’s psychological reasons why that statistic makes exceptional sense.

Gary S:

Right. There’s a flywheel effect on the other side of the encouragement, right, for the person who receives it, the more you hear that, the more that’s spoken to you from varied sources in particular, the better it’s going to be for you going forward to receive that and not be like, “Oh no, please stop.” Right? I mean, it will help people receive it the more you are part of the solution of people who are giving that encouragement.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Just one more thought on that is, it’d be like saying, “Okay, I watered that dying plant once. It’s good. Right?” No, it takes a lot of water for that dying plant to thrive. Think of ourselves like that often, especially if you’re in the middle of a crucible. So yeah, it makes abundant sense.

Gary S:

Here’s another point that makes abundant sense. The sixth point in your blog, and this is critical too. This is another little offshoot of how critical this is, doing it often, very important, but also we want to make sure that what we say when we say it, that we’re sincere in doing so, because insincere positive encouraging feedback can be sniffed out miles away.

Warwick F:

Back in my advertising days, I had an internship which we’ll actually talk about here towards the end. But one of the worst things you can do is have a bad product with great advertising. Because you go by the supermarket, you go, “I just saw that out on TV. This product’s lousy. I mean, this food, whatever it is, it tastes terrible.” You’ll get angry.

Warwick F:

It’s a bit like that. You’ve got to be sincere, obviously be specific, just this general mantra of, “Oh, you’re doing a great job.” Or, “Yeah, you’re a nice person.” Come on, it’s got to be real and be specific. Otherwise, frankly, it will do more harm than good. It will have been better to say nothing, to say great job, you’re a nice person, if they’re not. They will resent it. They’ll be angry and they will feel unseen, unheard, and that you don’t know them. I mean, it sounds strange, but insincere comments can be extremely toxic. It is not helpful.

Gary S:

All right. The summary point, this all the flywheel, all flies around, spins around to get us to this point. And that is the power of encouragement. Encouragement is powerful. Why is that true, and how is that true?

Warwick F:

I really believe that encouragement can change the world. I mean, we live in a world that’s divided, there’s war on as we speak, division, discouragement, fear, uncertainty. But when you encourage somebody else, and they in turn encourage others, and you have encouragement spreading like water spreading out on dry land, you’ll see grass growing, flowers blooming. It makes a tremendous difference. If we had everybody think, “Okay, what can I encourage somebody today in?” It would encourage people to bounce back more.

Warwick F:

Yes, if you’ve gone through some things you might need counseling and if you have illness, you might obviously need medical treatment. I don’t discount any of the very practical things that you need to do, but encouragement can just change people’s attitude. It can change people’s motivation. It can make people feel less negative, more positive. It can literally revolutionize the world if more people thought of encouraging.

Gary S:

And that is the signal that the time has arrived in the podcast where I talk about the purple file, which I do every episode now. The idea behind the purple file was Dennis Gillan, who we had on the podcast a few weeks ago, wrote an article for Entrepreneur magazine, where he talked about this file he keeps, and it’s a big thick file and it’s purple. That’s why it’s called the purple file, ingenious. But in it, he keeps notes of encouragement. That’s how he describes it. Notes of encouragement he’s received.

Gary S:

He’s a suicide prevention speaker. Sometimes he worries that his speeches aren’t hitting the mark. They’re not motivating people. They’re not moving people. They’re not helping people. And when he gets into that place, he pulls out the purple file and finds a note of encouragement. If anything is an advertisement for the importance of all that we’ve talked about here, specifically, the idea of writing a note or something that even an email that you can print out, this would be it, because someone can do it again. It’s to the point of, it’s not just one and done that encouragement then can live on if someone puts it up on the wall, puts it in a purple file.

Gary S:

And I’m just going to read one short one here, because what this note does is hits on both aspects of what we’ve talked about. Throughout this entire episode, we’ve talked about, you can have a professional track in your encouragement, and there’s also a personal track in your encouragement. In the workplace and in the home, from the boardroom to the living room. Right? You’ve got that kind of mix. And this is a note that I got 10 years ago. I still have the note. This is a note I got 10 years ago when I left Focus on the Family. It’s written by Jim Daly, still the president of the Focus on the Family.

Gary S:

But this is what he said, on the day that I left, he gave me this note. “You’ve provided great leadership to the media effort at Focus, a wonderful move for the ministry, bringing you in that position. You have managed the media relationships with great ability,” specific. Right? “We will miss you. Your flare will also be missed,” personal, specific and personal. So there’s a business. Right? You’ve managed the media relationships well, but your flare will also be missed. “You are one of a kind, we love you.”

Gary S:

All the things that we’ve talked about here, the entire flywheel represented there in this idea of, if you keep a purple file, if people are encouraging you, they’re giving you fodder to put in your purple file. So, as you think about encouraging others, know that it’s not only is it not one and done for you to continue to encourage them, but the bits of encouragement that you give them can live on for them in that particular case from my old boss, Jim Daly, for 10 years.

Warwick F:

Yeah. So well said. I mean, that’s such a great example of the purple file. So whether it’s cards or birthdays or Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or whether it’s handwritten notes that you’ve kept. Those things matter. We tend to forget. And so we can look at them on our dark days and just remember. It’s so helpful, so important.

Gary S:

So now you hinted earlier Warwick that there was a story that you were going to tell about your time, perhaps in a different lifetime, in a different business situation. So before we take the plane to the ground, and really it occurs to me, my whole idea of the captain’s turn on the fasten seatbelt sign, we’re the only two people on the plane, and one of us is flying it. So, we’ll just bring it down without the captain telling us. So, we’ve begun our descent, but tell us that story that fits in and summarizes, I guess, what it is that we’ve been talking about today.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Thanks Gary. I mean, if this was a movie in a sense, this is probably the origin story of why encouragement is such a high value for me. It was an example. It’s a lifelong lesson that I’ve never forgotten. I finished school in Australia. It was probably like, I don’t know, November, 1979 or something like … I’m sorry, November, 1978, because school years in Australia are different. It’s the calendar year because the summers are round the other way. It’s all different. So Oxford wasn’t until the fall of 1979, it had like eight month gap or something.

Warwick F:

So for about five months of that, I got internship at an advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, used to be one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, now merged with a few others. So, I was working in the Sydney office, and in their group, it was a Kellogg’s group. So I was supporting Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and a bunch of other things. And there was this Canadian guy, Don Robertson that came out to be chief executive of the Australian office. So, every once in a while we had team meetings, I don’t know if there were 50, a 100, 150 people. It was a pretty big office for an advertising agency.

Warwick F:

I remember one time he gave praise to one of the people working in the group I was in the Kellogg’s group and said, “The advertising we’ve done for Kellogg’s Australia is some of the best advertising that Kellogg’s have seen worldwide for the whole brand.” Everybody knows Kellogg’s cereal. You can probably get in every country on the planet. I mean, it’s a massive brand. So for Don Robertson, CEO of J. Walter Thompson, Australia to say, this is some of the best advertising that’s being produced for Kellogg’s anywhere on the planet. And Australia, relative to the rest of the world, it’s not like a massive market. It’s not nearly as big country, but in terms of the market, not nearly as big as the US or Europe. You’ll imagine what that person thought. I mean, they would’ve gone through a brick wall for Don Robertson.

Warwick F:

The work ethic, the commitment that, “Hey, I’m not leaving this place ever.” If you’re in advertising, you have choices. So that was one of those examples that I have just never forgotten. He was very specific, he told others, like headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, wherever they are for Kellogg’s. I mean, it was amazing. And ever since then, just the power of encouragement to motivate a team to get to this next level, but just because it’s the right thing to do, and that was huge.

Gary S:

And that is an excellent opportunity for us to put the plane on the ground. Before we do that though, before we depart the plane, plane’s on the ground, before we grab our peanut bags and head out, your blog available, if not already then soon, at crucibleleadership.com. As you always do, you end with some really insightful and thought provoking questions of reflection that readers can ask themselves. I’m going to leave the listeners, who hopefully will also be readers of the blog, with those three prompts to reflect on everything that we’ve spoken about here on this episode of the show.

Gary S:

First one, and these are all sequential, you can follow 1, 2, 3. First one, think of someone you want to praise. We won’t do it in real time, I won’t make you do it while I’m talking. But think of someone you want to praise. Two, think specifically why what they did or who they are is praise worthy. Right? One of the points that Warwick makes in the blog, one of the points we made here is be specific. That carries far more weight as you’re offering encouragement to others. And then, here’s the most important point. Don’t let the thought die on the vine or in your brain, go and say something to them this week, right after you think about it, after I’m done talking, go tell them.

Gary S:

Think of someone you want to praise, think why you want to praise them, think specifically, and then go do it. Because the impact as we’ve discussed on this episode, the impact can be great. It can be a flywheel that will spur them on to greater performance, or will add depth and meaning and momentum to your relationship with someone professionally or personally. That’s the benefit of this thing that we call encouragement. So, listener until the next time we’re together, remember that we understand that your crucible experiences are difficult, we understand that they’re painful, and that they can take a while to get through.

Gary S:

But the good news that we offer, the good news that Warwick has staked out in his book, Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance, available now at bookstores everywhere, including Amazon. What Warwick points us to is the idea that if we learn the lessons of our crucibles, if we don’t stay in the pit, if we get out, and we move forward, we can land at a place that is the most rewarding place we can land, and that’s a life of significance. And I want to, on that phrase, life of significance, here comes a tease, here comes a tease. Next week on the show, you will hear about our new series of this podcast, which we’re calling Second Act Significance.

Gary S:

We have interviewed some truly remarkable guests who have gone from a first act in life that for whatever reason, wasn’t fulfilling, wasn’t what they felt they were called to do, didn’t bring their heart alive, a crucible is usually involved. And then, they moved on beyond that, and in the second act of their life, they have found that life of significance that we’ve talked about. So, stay tuned, because beginning next week, and for several weeks following, you will get to hear more about, and actually listen to episodes from folks who have lived and are living a life of second act significance.