How do we know that appreciating strengths works? Well, I know. I am absolutely clear of its power. Here is how I know.
I have told this story twice within the Constellation and on each occasion I have felt a little embarrassed and uncomfortable. But what happened was for me so powerful and changed what I do that I thought I would share it here.
My wife was a governor at our local secondary school. It is quite a large school with about 1,400 pupils. Well, as sometimes happens, there was a struggle between an 'old' set of governors who believed they knew best and knew how to run the school and a new headteacher. This led to warfare in the governing body of the school and my wife went into battle against the old governors and in favour of the new head.
At the start, my wife was on her own and she had to battle long and hard to change things. There were lots of nervous evenings and, at one stage, she even feared that there could be physical violence. She was frightened of what could happen.
All of this involved lots of late nights both before and after confrontations. I guess I did my best and supported her and encouraged her. But finally, at the end of a very long evening, I told her that what she was doing was a GOOD thing; that she was a good person for doing this; that she must be proud of what she was doing; and that the education of lots and lots of children would be improved because of what she was doing. I don't know if I knew it at the time but I had moved from supporting her to appreciating her.
So what was her response to appreciation? She was annoyed. She told me that this was nonsense. She was only doing what she should be doing and that was all there was to it. So I left it at that. And I thought perhaps there was a time to appreciate and a time to keep quiet.
Time went by. And then quite suddenly my wife died. On a Friday lunchtime she was working at (another) school and on Monday lunchtime she was dead. My wife had worked in the school arranging support for children who had 'Special Educational Needs'. This could range from helping children who would live their short lives in a wheelchair through to arranging extra help for a 16-year old who had trouble reading and writing. So she worked with a lot of people who provided this help. And after her death, there came a flood of letters from many people. And time after time, the letters from her colleagues said how my wife had told them that the work that they were doing was a GOOD thing; that they must be proud of what they were doing; that their work would change the life of a human being. And what my wife had said had inspired them in what they did and that they had in turn given this message to a colleague!
We talk about transfer. Just how far has this message gone? I haven't the slightest idea. But I have a suspicion that one act of appreciation several years ago is still influencing people in this part of the world. And that gives me a quiet satisfaction.