I was standing in a Los Angeles bus when a man next to me began talking to me earnestly about the Kennedy assassination, and lots of other things, all jumbled up. I figured I might as well listen. I failed to understand his underlying message, but let him know I was listening. I could not ask questions because I could not get a word in.
After fifteen minutes the man pressed the button and the bus pulled into the next stop. The man stopped talking, looked me in the eye and said softly, ‘Thank you’, and then he got off the bus.
His Thank you made me I realise I had given him a gift. I had listened to him. I had listened to him speak on subjects he considered vitally important. It dawned on me that perhaps no-one had actively listened to that mentally ill man for a long time. Why would they? He made no sense.
For a few brief minutes that man had felt he was contributing (telling me something important), and had felt valued, because I had listened. For those few minutes he had felt connected with humanity.
‘Quietly sitting and listening to someone sends a powerful message of acceptance to them. They may feel that the whole world is wrong, but if one person accepts them unconditionally they may begin to feel more accepting of themselves.’
Gary Van Warmerdam.
‘Because of its rarity, the skill of excellent listening sends a powerful message. It says, “You are important. Your ideas are valuable. You and what you think matter to me.”’
Dr Bev Smallwood.
Ways to help people feel valued.
The examples below may be long and lengthy, but they are gold! The extra oomph they provide might be remembered for years. Why? Because when we apply them we not only acknowledge the person’s achievements, we acknowledge the person themselves. That’s a great way to help a person feel valued. They begin to feel real.
(1) Acknowledge a person’t achievement.
A brief ‘Well done!’ is sufficient (providing the task was well done). It’s better than ‘Good boy!’ because Well done! is focusing on the person’s value to the tribe.
‘Well done!’ ‘Good job!’ ‘Good work!’
We can also acknowledge a person’s efforts.
’I can see you have practised diligently.’
‘I can see you worked hard to produce that document.’
‘I noticed you were putting every bit of yourself into that race.’
‘I admire your persistence.’
Don’t praise the person. Praise the achievement.
(2) Acknowledge a person’s character trait.
Now and then a detailed acknowledgment is in order, for special occasions. In the examples below we go once step further than praising the achievement: we acknowledge a character trait. That way, the person builds up a belief in their character, not in how adept they are. That’s a far more sustaining way to value someone.
‘Yes, you came last in the contest, but you had the guts to enter the competition, and then compete. That’s impressive! Especially given that you would have known you had little chance of winning. This tells me you are a person interested not just in winning; but in testing yourself, and having a go. Well done!’
Each and every word has to be true. If it didn’t take courage to enter the competition, for example, don’t say it. That applies to the remaining examples. Assume the comments are an accurate and honest view of the situation.
Every acknowledgement has to be accurate, genuine and specific. And, it has to be proportionate to the amount of effort put in. Otherwise, the recipient will think you’re a dill, or lose trust in your judgment or honesty. When the comments are accurate, the recipient learns how to think about themselves in the same healthy way. They can become self-nurturing, and learn how to value themselves.
Here is another compliment acknowledging a character trait and an achievement:
‘Everyone may be celebrating Rhonda on her twenty-first birthday, but the real credit goes to you two, her parents. You two are the ones we should be celebrating, because for twenty-one years you both made sacrifices. You both worked hard to ensure you raised a healthy, well adjusted, educated, confident woman, and you succeeded. She is a credit to you both. It’s an extraordinary achievement and I congratulate you both for it. Yes, congratulations to Rhonda, but it’s because of you two that she is here, happily celebrating her birthday. Well done!’
Again, every word of it has to be true and accurate. Otherwise it’s just a gush-fest.
‘You won that contest! Congratulations! Every one of those contestants would have practised long and hard to be the best they could possibly be. They would have prepared and rehearsed and practised, over and over and over. Yet, you managed to come first! That tells me you also worked extraordinarily hard in your preparations and rehearsals. And, you must have developed a strong self-discipline. You not only have talent, you have patience and persistence. You worked hard and you thoroughly deserve your victory! Congratulations to you: not just on winning the contest, but on becoming a person who could do such a thing. Well done!’
If those acknowledgements sound to you corny or over-the-top, it’s because you’re not used to giving them. Or receiving them. Get into the habit of giving them (on those occasional instances when they’re deserved) and you will not only help someone feel valued, you will find in yourself similar strengths.
(3) Simply acknowledge a person.
A year after suffering a serious knee injury I found a young man in a street hobbling on crutches with what appeared to be a similar injury. I felt concern for him, and out of the blue I told him, ‘Hey, make sure you do your exercises, won’t you?!’ And I smiled.
He nodded and said, ‘Yes.’
I kept walking.
Six months later a young man answered my advertisement for bricks. He said to me, ‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’
I admitted that I didn’t.
I was surprised to find that our ultra-brief encounter six months previously had made an impression on him. He had appreciated my concern.
If you feel like acknowledging another human being – whether it be in their suffering or in their achievement, consider doing so. For that matter, regularly acknowledge the people you do know. Point out the things you like or admire about them.
(4) Thank people.
Elsewhere we examine the importance of thanking someone for our benefit: we become aware of how fortunate we are in life, which in turn helps us develop a positive view of the world. That diminishes our anxiety. We also strengthen the bond between us and humanity, which helps satisfy our deep need to belong.
Thanking someone also benefits the other person. It’s a way to value them. There is the short way to thank someone, and the long way. Use either, depending.
The short way:
‘Thank you for remembering to buy the milk and sewing machine.’
‘Thank you for doing that without having to be reminded.’
‘Thank you for cooking dinner.’
The long way:
When we give a sincere, quality, considered ‘thank you’ to someone, they feel heartened! Here is a quick summary of how to thank:
Step 1. Thank the person, explaining what they did for you.
Step 2. Explain how your life would have been different had you not been helped.
Step 3. You can even put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Step 4. You can add a compliment.
Step 5. Repeat your message so it’s clear.
(1) Thank you for helping me fix my car. (2) I have saved a lot of money, and I’ve learned heaps. Had you not helped me, I would have been flustered, unable to use the car, and a lot poorer. (3) I know you have other things to do, so I do appreciate it. (4) Thank you for showing patience with me when you explained things to me. (5) Thank you very much!
Look for opportunities to thank people:
(In each case be 100% genuine.)
‘I am so glad that you chose me to employ fifty years ago. I have found this job so rewarding, because . . .’
‘I am so pleased that when you argue with me you don’t get nasty. You don’t get bitter or hold a grudge. I may not like our arguments, but I like how we argue in a civilised manner. Thank you!’
‘I appreciate the many odd jobs you do around the house without being asked. Thank you!
Buy a pack of ten ‘Thank You’ cards from the newsagent, and after someone has done something nice for you, write them a note of thanks in the card and post it to them.
(5) Be a good listener.
When the other person is speaking:
(1) Listen for the message the person is trying to express behind their words.
(2) Search for a question you would like answered, and ask it.
(3) Don’t interrupt. Don’t talk over them.
When you are speaking:
(1) Look to see if the other person is interested in what you have to say.
(2) Don’t hog the conversation. Give the person opportunities to respond.
(3) Spare the person the irrelevant details.
(4) Consider making other people feel valued by inviting them into the conversation.
(6) Give someone your time.
Yes, our time is precious and we shouldn’t give it away willy-nilly, but sometimes it’s a good thing to do, and we know when those times occur.
When we spend time examining someone’s project, or asking questions about a neighbour’s experience, we are effectively telling that person that they themselves matter. We are silently saying to them, ‘I’m interested in your project because what you do matters.’
‘In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.’
Dr. Gary Chapman, from his book, ‘The 5 Love Languages’.
(7) Help out!
I once saw a bricklayer unloading bricks from his truck. I had the time to spare and helped him. I don’t know if he felt valued, or even if he thanked me, but in most instances, assisting a stranger can help them feel valued by ‘humanity’. It’s a reminder that we are ‘all in this same boat together’.
‘The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” . . . Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.’
Dr Chapman again.
If someone is changing a tyre facing the road, direct the traffic around them. If someone is trying to figure something out, teach them. Simply, if you have the time, assist someone. Don’t do it just be kind. Or to be a good person. Do it to strengthen the connection between you and humanity. That’s a key to core happiness.
(8) Physical Touch.
The boxing classes I attend are gruelling for all the participants, and when I walk past a regular partner I might feel a sudden twinge of affection for them and give them a friendly whack on the back. It gives me pleasure to do so.
I like it when I get a whack on the back, too.
I also like shaking the hand of someone I respect. Touch is vitally important, as Ashley Montagu explains in his eye-opening book, ‘Touching. The Human Significance of the Skin.’
Here’s Dr Chapman again: ‘Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face–they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.’
Q. ‘How can we help our kids feel valued?’
Spend time with them. And, as well as applying the tips above, we can give them jobs to do. Household jobs. They learn how to contribute ‘to the tribe’, and when we thank them, they feel valued for their contribution. In the process they also learn self-discipline, how to be industrious, how to pull their own weight, and how to be reliable. Great skills for life.
Do chores with them. All of you can clean the house together, or work in the garden as a team.
‘Do we pay them?’
You decide. There are too many factors to be considered to discuss here.