Micro Affirmations: Tell People They Matter With Small Acts of Inclusion

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By Bradley Wilkinson, Delta Concepts Consulting Senior Consultant

Recently, a participant in one of my workshops demonstrated “good energy,” as one of my mentors would say. I noticed that she made supportive comments regarding the contributions of others, offered to serve as a scribe during the exercises and generally worked to support the group’s learning as well as her own.

After the workshop ended, she asked me for my business card, and I asked her if I could give her feedback. I told her how much I appreciated what I called her “inclusive behaviors.” It was a short interaction, and I’d mostly forgotten about it until I checked my email. She’d sent an email to her boss and cc’d me. She thanked her boss and the organization for the learning opportunity, and thanked me as well.

Do I even need to tell you how that “small act of inclusion” impacted me? I forwarded a copy to my immediate manager and saved a copy for myself. Motivated by her gesture, I emailed a few “small acts of inclusion” to colleagues to recognize the support I felt from them. I sailed on that great feeling for at least two weeks!

This was a perfect example of what MIT’s Mary Rowe might have called a “micro affirmation”—subtle or seemingly small acknowledgements of a person’s value and accomplishments, displayed either publically or privately.

There are other ways to give people micro affirmations:

•       Solicit Opinions: Find opportunities to ask, “I’d like your opinion about…”

•       Connect on a Personal Level: Take a few minutes to engage in a non-business conversation with a colleague.

•       Ask Questions: When you have a negative reaction to a colleague’s statement or suggestion, lead your response with a question, not a statement.

•       Attribute/Credit Ideas: Acknowledge, by name, the “owner” of an idea during meetings.

•       Monitor Facial Expressions: Be conscious of your facial expressions and center on the speaker.

 

I think of micro affirmations as the antidote to micro inequities. In her 2008 work “Micro-Affirmations & Micro-Inequities,” Rowe shared three benefits to embedding micro affirmations into your leadership practice.

  1. “The first effect is obvious—appropriately affirming the work of another person is likely both to help that person do well, and to help him or her to enjoy doing well.”
  2. “The second effect is that consistent, appropriate affirmation of others can spread from one person to another—potentially raising morale and productivity.”
  3. “The third effect is subtle, and deals with the point that it may be hard for a person to “catch” himself or herself unconsciously behaving inequitably. I may not always be able to “catch myself” behaving in a way that I do not wish to behave. But if I try always to affirm others in an appropriate and consistent way, I have a good chance of blocking behavior of mine that I want to prevent. Many micro-inequities are not conscious—but affirming others can become a conscious as well as unconscious practice that prevents unconscious slights.”

How do you impact people with micro affirmations in your daily leadership practice? Choose one or two to focus on for a week!

You might just find that micro affirmations create macro results.

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