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With Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably thinking a lot about gifts. Who to buy for? What to give? Where to shop for the best deal?
But you don’t necessarily have to buy anything. There’s one gift you can give that’s free—and you can give it any day of the year, not just Christmas. In fact, you might already be giving it.
What is it? Your words.
This isn’t about writing a poem or a song for someone. This is about the words you speak into someone’s life. And here’s the key to making them a true gift: They have to thoughtfully and sincerely encourage or express appreciation. They have to be valuable to the person receiving them!
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You might already thank people or offer an occasional compliment, but your words can truly be a gift when you make them more thoughtful.
Related: 12 Ways to Be Kind Without Spending a Dime
The Value of a Good Compliment (or Six)
Several years ago, a study by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business found the ideal ratio of compliments to criticism in a business setting is six to one. American psychologist John Gottman found a similar ratio holds true between spouses and can lead to happier marriages. And if it’s true among teammates in the office and between spouses, then it’s probably true across all relationships.
That says something about the power of positive, affirming words. What a gift they can be to those who receive them! You have so much power to encourage and strengthen—just by being generous with your words.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Everyone loves receiving genuine compliments, uplifting encouragement, or heartfelt appreciation. That’s because they can be transformational to the person hearing them.
When you speak life-giving words to someone, you essentially give them permission to live out those positive affirmations. Your kind words can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the recipient.
A 2015 study by Harvard Business School found that when people got feedback from others about the ways they’d contributed positively—when other people affirmed their best qualities—they were more likely to live up to that image in the future too.
Think of it like this: Your generous praise, appreciation and encouragement have the power to become part of the recipient’s identity. Words are inspiring and empowering, and they tap into outrageous potential for personal growth. What a tremendous gift that is!
Generic Thanks vs. Life-Giving Affirmation
Okay, so you’re ready to start giving your words generously. Here’s what to do—and what to avoid.
Make your words sincere and specific, and tie a character quality to the actual behavior you’re praising. For example, “You did great yesterday,” is okay, but it doesn’t convey much depth or thoughtfulness. Instead say, “I was so impressed by your effort yesterday. I could tell you really devoted lots of time to prepare and overcome obstacles. That shows dedication, and I really admire you for that.”
See how much more powerful that is? You’re identifying a specific character quality (dedication) that goes along with the behavior (effort) you’re complimenting. The recipient may never have thought of themselves as dedicated, but you’re helping them claim that quality!
Or how about this? “Thank you.” That’s okay, but this is better: “I wanted to let you know how grateful I am for your visit. I was having a really terrible week, and the day you stopped by was particularly bad. A visit from you was the perfect thing to lift my spirits. I’m so grateful for you and your thoughtfulness.”
You’ve just communicated that you not only appreciate the behavior (a visit), but that you notice and affirm the character quality behind it (thoughtfulness). Going forward that person will think of themselves as thoughtful and live out that identity.
Now go out and look for opportunities to gift people with the power of your words. A sincere, meaningful and well-deserved compliment from you will long outlive anything you could buy in the store. It really is the gift that keeps on giving!
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