Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dish It Out and Take It like a Person not Cookie Monster

A wise person once said:

When someone does something well, or beautiful, or kind, tell them. It costs you nothing. There are too many people walking around not knowing the differences they are making. That silence costs them a lot.

That wise person was me on Facebook, the best place to wax eloquent.  

It was a flash of insight that I had in December.  I was seeing hard-working people strive and succeed in so many areas of life but hearing so little by way of praise.  I can count myself in that group as well, but I was surprised at how often I said nothing.  I was aching for some positive comments for myself, and saw how unmet that need was, but all the while I wasn't meeting it for others.  I wasn't praising them for the everyday things.
I was and am part of the problem.

As an attempt to rectify that, I am trying to seize moments to slide in tiny and big praises for others.  There are probably studies that show that this is a good practice for my health in the long run, but that's not why.  Like identifying gratitude and thanking others, noticing their greatness and accomplishments and skills and calling them out just feels good.  

Well, let me back up.  It doesn't always feels good.  At first it just feels misplaced.  After work is over, I remember and reflect on all of the times I missed saying "good job," so there has certainly been an uptick in co-worker text praise in the evenings.  Similarly my words can be
jarring.  Let's take into account that sometimes I start talking while in mid-thought, which means we might both be caught off guard by the words that do come out of me.   
But even knowing my timing can be a bit off, so can the words themselves.  For instance, it probably wasn't a good idea to tell the Business Manager that I loved her new cropped haircut and that it made her skin look dewy.  Dewy.  I said this in an email.  Certainly it had an unrehearsed quality to it and was meant as a way to convey something heart-felt, but learn from me; strike all moisture words from praise.  

Finally, depending on who it is, it can take some courage and gearing up to say, 
"Woah ___(work superior/ complete stranger/ frenemy), you handled that _______(whatever it was) really well.  I was impressed."  
But no matter the amount of courage or discomfort involved in speaking up, come out they must because to quote myself "silence costs... a lot." 

Prepare yourself; There is also the moment post-compliment that you and your audience need to lean into.
This is the hard pause.  They can do many things on the receiving end, but one thing I know is that taking a compliment is an uncomfortable thing to do. 

It's so strange.  People want compliments.  They crave them.  And then once one is given the impulse is to knock it away, crumble it up, or volley another right back. 
The mental picture I have is of cookie monster.  
Cookie monster wants cookies and then in his voraciousness to possess them never gets a single crumb in his mouth- all are marred in the process.

I'm going to coin this phrase: He totally cookie monstered that compliment. 




That's right, this is a weighty enough topic to reference Sesame Street and I turned monster into a verb.    

Take this as an example (it happened yesterday).
My friend has been wearing her power color all week.  It's pink.  It means she needs to drill down to get through the week.  It means I need to pay more attention to her.  
At the end of the work day I pointed out something she was wearing and said I liked it.

And then there was the moment; she cookie monstered it. 

"Well, they're really old and it's falling apart right here," she said. 

Then came the moment we each didn't expect.

"NO!"


I shouted at her.  We both jumped.

"No!  You say 'thank you.'  Try again!  I like your shoes."

"Thank you."

Then we both felt weird and didn't look at each other.  

It's challenging to know I am right in principle but that I both yelled and spoke condescendingly to a close friend in an attempt to build her up.  Maybe by "challenging" I mean I imploded my primary objective.  I tried. 

I do know that complimenting small things is just as important as recognizing those over the top, million hours put into it deeds.  And that compliments about things I do (think, say, create) hold more weight and meaning than one about appearance.  

In fact I have several compliments rattling around in my head from this week.
And when I review them, and I find myself doing that often too, it makes me feel how I do in that second moment that comes after being praised.  It feels comforting and reassuring. 

"You are a really good hugger." -dear friend and co-worker

"I just want you to know when you went out into the gym floor you looked like someone who really cares about her students." -dear friend and co-worker

"That outfit is cute!"  -eccentric [possibly fashion forward??] guy walking down the street 

"Wow your hair is soft."  -stylist (genuine shock in her voice)  

"I don't get to see a lot of long healthy hair like that." -colorist

"This meal was a labor of love."  -a dinner guest

"This food is really good." -Mom 

"You are too funny Miss M." -my student 

"You are a good teacher Miss M." -my student

I have to confess I am trying to collect and store up compliments.  In February, after I noticed this void of articulating compliments, I was complimented on some work I had done. It took almost all of my face-energy (if there is such a thing) to not cry.  
It fell on me forcibly because it was something I had not heard in perhaps 6 months from anyone anywhere.  And when you (or at least I) do not hear praise for that long you begin to assume the worst about what you are doing and how well you are doing it.  You begin to doubt.  And that doubt can grow up into insecurity and become your shadow.  Insecurity is not a haunt you want around.  
So.  I'm shoring up, savoring, and rehearsing them again now and preparing for low times. 
And I am striving to point out the good I want people to see in themselves, so they don't have to wonder and doubt.