Posted May 22, 2017 by Mark Perna
Positive affirmation is a plus for my generation, the Baby Boomers. It feels great to be told we’re doing a fantastic job and that we are making a positive difference in our world in some capacity. But for today’s younger generations, positive affirmation is not just a plus—it has almost become a need.
This stems from the way these generations have been showered with praise and good feedback from their earliest years onward. Our societal focus on building self-esteem has caused many parents to give frequent affirmation to their children in all areas of their lives. Over and over again, we’ve told them that they are unique, special, and important. So it makes sense that they would carry that view of themselves forward into their young adult life.
The interesting thing is that in general, these positive affirmations have not been false. Today’s younger generations really do merit the recognition they are looking for. They’re resourceful, smart, digitally savvy, tenacious, and passionate about the causes that have captured their loyalty. They have the capacity to become the next Greatest Generation in the event of a critical national crisis that will mobilize their best qualities. They can perform beyond all expectations; I see it every day and I am constantly surprised by the things they are achieving.
One of the biggest generational divides between the Baby Boomers and Generations Y and Z is this very issue: the role of regular positive affirmation in the classroom and on the job. We older folks may see it as unnecessary because it’s just not the way we function, while our younger people wonder why we can’t encourage them more. They truly want to contribute something meaningful to the world, but how can they know if they’re making a difference if no one is telling them?
I want to emphasize that the younger generations’ need to feel appreciated and valued is not a negative trait. In fact, it affords us a rare opportunity to influence their performance and future success both in their education and career journeys.
However, all the positive affirmation and encouragement in the world means little if we don’t personally believe what we’re saying to our young people. If we use it simply as a means to convince students and employees to do what we want, it simply won’t work—they can spot an insincere approach a mile away. In addition, mouthing positive platitudes to students and younger employees without really meaning them sells us short, too because we will fail to capitalize on the tremendous talent they bring.
I’ve written before on how we need to raise, not lower our expectations for the younger generations. When we do this, when we recognize the amazing ability they have to make our world a better place and perform beyond all expectations, we will be able to cheer them on in a way that will motivate them even further. There is always something to praise, so look for ways to give them the kudos and high-fives that will spur them on. Positive affirmation is a powerful dynamic for any age group, but with today’s generations it can be a life-changing way to relate to our young people and lay the foundation for their ongoing success.