….as often as you can.

And the emphasis here is on what you ‘like’. Why is it we are so often ready to give critical input and find it so much harder to give the pats and strokes of positive feedback.  Think for a second about the last time someone gave you a compliment.  What did they say?  How did you feel?  Did you even believe them?  What is it about the giving – and receiving – of positive news is so challenging?  Particularly, when you think about it:

a) Saying something positive costs us nothing;

b) It can have a strangely powerful effect on the person we are saying it to;

c) It is very likely to result in a repeat of the positive behaviour that we commented on in the first place.

Positive feedback serves a very important neural function.  Research shows that when we are given compliments, our brain produces dopamine.  Dopamine is a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells.  Dopamine has many different roles, but one of the key dopamine pathways in the brain is linked to our sense of motivation. Scientific studies have shown that when high levels of dopamine is triggered people are more productive, engaged and positive as a result.  (Alex Korb Ph.D  Psychology Today)

Weird huh?

What does that mean?

But what does that mean for us as professionals?  As leaders, workplace partners, or as team collaborators?  How does this look in practice?  Well, imagine for a moment you have a tough old day ahead of you.  Some tricky meetings with some tricky customers followed by a a difficult presentation to the board, followed by having to deliver a challenging message to your team.  You get the picture.

At the start of the day, someone (and this is the beauty of positive verbal strokes, we don’t only react to them when they come from on high), tells you that they are glad you showed up. That they really appreciated the work you did on that last paper/ your support for the budget cuts/ they cup of tea you made for them yesterday.  You smile, say thanks and go about your tough day.  But there’s that rush of dopamine, working through the neural pathway and giving you a little bit of impetus you didn’t have before.  A tiny little boost that means that you sail through the tricky meetings, convey your key points to the board with passion and professionalism and deliver your message with humanity so that it lands as well as it can.

Powerful isn’t it?

Try this!

So, we have a suggestion for you.  Today, at every single possible opportunity, say exactly what you like about someone.  Call it. Express it.  And mean it.  And watch the dopamine work its magic.  Whilst you are doing the exercise, notice the effect that giving positive verbal strokes to others has on you.  The giving of praise also engages the brain in a positive cycle – more dopamine, more little boosts and better work days all round.