I recently attended a talk by what I would consider to be a gifted public speaker. He is a person well known, articulate, and well-respected in his field. The talk was not only very helpful to those attending; it was delivered in an interesting and often humorous style.
As a compulsive note-taker, I took several pages of notes in the journal I always carry when I know I will be listening to people I consider to be experts in their field.
I was delighted that I had been fortunate enough to be in the audience.
After the talk, I walked up to the speaker and waited until he was finished talking with people from the audience.
As the group around him began to thin out, I approached him and told him what a great talk he’d given, how helpful it was, and how pleased and fortunate I felt to have had the opportunity to hear him speak today.
We shook hands and I was startled to see him tear up. He was obviously a bit embarrassed so I said my good bye and walked away to give him some space.
A few minutes later as I was putting on my jacket to leave, a woman walked up to me, held out her hand to me and said quietly. “Thank you for affirming my husband. You were the only person in the audience to do so”.
I was dumbfounded.
As I drove home, I began to think about how often we miss the opportunity to affirm the people we encounter in our life.
I suspect that most of the people from the audience that talked with him after the event simply assumed that he “knew” he was a great speaker. The need to affirm him probably never crossed their mind.
I sometimes wonder if we fail to affirm another person because it feels like we are giving away something of value that we need to keep for ourselves. I often suspect that might be why so many of us resist offering compliments and affirmations to those around us. And perhaps, why we receive so few compliments or affirmations from those around us.
It reminded me of a basic rule that I learned years ago called the 9A’s + 3. It’s a rule I try to use whenever I meet another person. The rule is to never walk away from another person, regardless of their age or position in life, without offering a 9A+3.
The nine A’s are affirmation, acceptance approval, attention, acknowledgment, admiration, affection, appreciation, and authentication.
The + 3 are empathy, emotional holding, and physical holding or touch. Of course being male, I am careful to ask permission before offering a hug or physical contact when the other person is female.
When I share this relationship rule, I often have to expand on the concept of authentication. The easiest way I have found to explain authentication is to tell the story of the little boy in the restaurant.
One day a little boy and his family went to a restaurant to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The waitress took the food orders from each person at the table. When she came to the little boy she said “And what can I bring you”?
The little boy said “A hotdog, some French fries, and some orange soda please”.
Before she could turn to leave, his mother said to the waitress, “He will have turkey like the rest of the table.”
The waitress smiled and walked away.
When she returned she served everyone the turkey they had ordered. When she came to the little boy she put down a plate with a hot dog, fries, and an orange soda.
As she walked away, the little boy tugged at his mother’s sleeve and said softly “I like her. She thinks I’m real”.
Sometimes even accomplished, well-known public speakers need to be authenticated and affirmed.
I have found that over the years, offering one of the 9A’s or a +3 to every person I meet……whether a friend, a family member, or a stranger has become one of my favorite spiritual practices.
Try it, you will find that it makes you feel good. And the smile you get can sometimes make your whole day smile.
I met a four year old yesterday. He was riding up and down the street on his obviously new two wheel bike complete with training wheels. The wheels on the bike were painted a very bright yellow. As he drove by I said to him “That is a great bike you have. You’re a great rider and I love the bright yellow wheels”.
He nodded and then spent the next five minutes furiously riding up and down the street so I could see his yellow wheels and how good he could ride.
It made my day.