Guest blog by Sharon Orlopp, Global Chief Diversity Officer, Walmart
During a holiday weekend, my teenage daughter, Shannon, and my husband, Craig, were preparing to wash and wax her car. I sat on our deck—out of sight, but not out of earshot—as they set up the buckets, hose, and cleaning materials. I heard Shannon ask her Dad, “Do you need any help?” Craig replied, “It’s up to you.”
Shannon’s answer was a woeful “I never do a good enough job.”
The words hung in the air….and continued to hang as seconds ticked by. Inwardly, I felt myself urging Craig to answer the question. “Don’t let those words linger.” Nothing. “Answer her question,” I felt like screaming. “Don’t let this moment pass by.” Time continued to pass very slowly.
Unable to stand it any longer, I went into the house. I jotted down a few phrases inside the book I was reading that described what I had just heard.
- Always trying
- Always chasing
- Always competing
- Wants her father’s love and approval and praise
Just the day before, I had been to see my beautician, Olivia. My daughter and I both go to Olivia, and Shannon had an appointment prior to mine. As Olivia and I talked about life and family matters, I voiced a concern that Shannon might succumb to “senioritis” now that she was in her final year of high school. Olivia told me that she and Shannon had discussed just that. Shannon said she would not as she wants to ensure she outperforms her older brother in everything he has done.
Our son and daughter are both overachievers in academics and athletics. Shannon is driven to prove herself to her father and to outshine her brother. I admire and respect her drive, ambition, and competitiveness. I also fully understand it. I have been driven throughout my entire life to please my father and to achieve as much or more than he achieved.
Winning the praise and approval of parents is something most of us crave. This feeling continues as we encounter teachers, coaches and supervisors. We want them to notice our efforts and to praise us. Words of praise and encouragement are golden and can turn us into superheroes.
I recently read The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. The authors set out to discover why girls and women have less confidence than boys and men. They interviewed neuroscientists who have discovered the confidence gene, psychologists who study confidence, and senior level women in politics, sports, the military, business and the arts. In school, girls are expected to keep their heads down, study quietly, and do as they’re told. These behaviors don’t translate well in the workplace for advancing careers.
Kay and Shipman discovered that men rely less on praise to feel confident. Men don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do and they spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure. Research has shown that success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Without confidence, we live stuck at the starting block of our potential.
Later in the day, I had a conversation with Craig about Shannon’s revealing statement, “I never do a good enough job.” Kudos to my husband—he addressed the issue by giving Shannon examples of the many things she does well.
For each of us to crack the confidence code of others, it requires our efforts as parents, teachers, coaches and managers to recognize and praise our children, students, players, colleagues and employees. The right words at the right moment can help someone gain the confidence they need and encourage them to succeed.
Jeff Haden’s wrote an article called The 9 Elements of Highly Effective Employee Praise on the impact of praise in our work relationships. We can apply his tips in our personal and professional lives:
- Don’t wait; begin recognition and compliments now
- Be specific
- Be genuine
- Save constructive feedback for another time
- Spend time looking for and commenting on the things that are done right
- Be surprising; provide recognition and praise when it isn’t expected
- Treat people like snowflakes—tailor praise to meet their individual needs.
Recognition and compliments nourish our souls and fuel our desire to succeed.