Acknowledge the Behavior You Want Repeated

“The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.” – (Samuel Johnson)

When you are acknowledged for doing something well, the pride you feel can be a seed that grows into a lifelong virtue. My father’s positive review of my first poem (which I wrote when I was 9 years old and titled “How Do I Know?”) is probably the reason I still write poetry today.

We all like to be appreciated, and when we get appreciated — genuinely appreciated — we want to experience that good feeling over and over again. Understanding this can make you a very powerful person. It can instantly change most of your relationships — business and personal — putting you more in command and inducing behaviors from people that are in keeping with your objectives.

If, for example, you want your assistant to be better organized, praise her when she performs an organized task. Praise both the thing she does and — if the action merits it — tell her you think she has a special talent for that kind of organization.

If you want your spouse to have better table manners, stop criticizing him when he wipes his mouth with his hand. Instead, wait for the rare moment when he does something right — perhaps cuts and eats his steak properly — and compliment him on how he does it.

The seed is planted when a specific compliment is yoked to an overall character assessment. Example: “That outfit looks good on you, Jane. You have a real talent for selecting elegant business attire.”

Here’s the trick about acknowledgment: It doesn’t work if you fake it. If you want your partner to be more punctual, it won’t do to simply tell him you think he has a talent for being punctual. You will have to wait for him to be on time (you can only hope that day will come) and pay him the compliment then. And then make it something you mean, such as, “It made me feel good to see you here at 8:00 a.m. this morning, George. And since you are someone who really cares about having good meetings, I can see how getting here on time would help achieve that goal.” But you can say that only if George truly is interested in having good meetings.

Acknowledgment is different from and much stronger than flattery. “Flattery is slimy,” says Martin Sage in his book “26 Innovations of Selling.” “Compliments engender suspicion, but an acknowledgment is a powerful statement of fact that gets people on the same page with you.”

That’s a good and useful distinction. In past ETR messages, I have made the point that you want to be genuine in your praise — to recognize people for something they have done that you truly appreciate. Giving people positive licks just for the sake of creating positive feelings is counterproductive. It is seen as flattery ,and you, consequentially, are seen as insincere.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]