As hurricanes played out in the US over the past weeks, heartwarming stories also emerged about people who took the initiative to help others, even risking their own health and well-being to be of service to those who needed their aid. There was a 13-year-old boy who floated an air mattress around his neighborhood, rescuing neighbors. And a nun who got out a chain saw to get a tree off someone’s car.
But heroism doesn’t need to be big or risky. In fact, the simplest of acts can be the most meaningful when people need it the most. Again and again, in the face of fears and tears, people called and texted each other, and when the water receded, what stood out for the survivors were the messages that said, “Yes, you can. You are capable. You are resilient. I believe in you.”
No matter what the situation is, encouragement is a miraculous tonic. Jason Versey, the author of A Walk with Prudence, tells us why: “When you believe in someone you profoundly increase their ability to have faith in themselves and achieve.” What Jason describes is the power of your words to quite literally change another person’s abilities.
Are you skeptical? Think back to your childhood. Most of us can remember a teacher, or a coach, or even a black sheep relative, who encouraged us in something we thought we couldn’t do. Someone who said, “Of course you can. I believe in you.” And did you change your belief about your own ability because of that person’s belief in you? How often have we heard the story of how pivotal those types of people were in changing someone’s life?
How do you offer this profound message to the people you want to develop in a way that gives them the confidence – or faith, as Jason Versey calls it – to be able to begin to think and act differently? Here are some tips.
- “I’ve been watching you.” Let people know you’ve been paying attention to them, observing them through a variety of situations. Your observations to them need to feel as though they’re based on some solid evidence, not just on a chance encounter.
- Mark hesitation or lack of confidence, if you see it. “Walter, I think I see you holding back from offering your real opinion in the committee meetings, especially when Paul is speaking. He’s pretty forceful, and I think you hesitate to take him on.”
- Define what gives them legitimacy to act differently. This may be experience or technical capability or reputation with others, or referent power because others will follow their lead. But let people know they have the moral authority to move out of the zone they’re in.
- Define what gives them strength. Remind them of the traits and skills they bring to the table that will help them in the situation. In Walter’s case, above, you might remind him of his outstanding diplomacy and his great ability to look at situations from all angles before making a judgment call, reminding him that before confronting Paul, he could feel confident he’d be well-prepared in his arguments, and highly unlikely to offend Paul.
- Help them remember when they’ve already done this successfully before. “Walter, last year I watched you stand up for a very tough decision on changing employee benefits, and even volunteer to be the spokesperson for it. You knew you’d get a lot of heat for it. So I know you can do this. I’ve seen you wade into these types of conflicts and raise your own thoughts without backing down. You’re good at it.”
- Express your belief in them. Finally, don’t forget the most important part. Your belief takes Walter over the top. It physically changes his energy. He can let himself down, but he can’t let down someone who believes in him.
Give your colleagues and employees a powerful gift. Help them to know what they themselves are capable of doing and being. Take to heart what actress Gabrielle reminds us: “It’s easier to believe in yourself after someone else has believed in you first.”
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
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