When we stop to think about it, we see lots of people around us who do and say good things, but too often we don’t acknowledge those people or what they contribute. Let’s talk about affirmations, what they look like, and how to give an affirmation.

Affirmations, really, are very simple. To affirm someone is to say something positive about someone directly to him or her. An affirmation is saying something positive to the person about who he or she is. Or it could be thanking someone for something he or she has done for you. Stop a minute and think of someone who’s done something for you. Maybe you think the person already knows you appreciate the favor, but perhaps you’ve never actually told them. Why not consider affirming that person directly and see what happens. Let’s explore how to do that.

Remove Insincere Phrases

The first thing to remember is that we need to remove insincere phrases in our affirmation like “I would like to” or “I want to.” Think about those awards shows on television when people go up, get their award, and then say something like, “I would like to thank my mom and dad” Or “I want to thank my spouse.” Or “I would like to affirm the director.” But if you pay close attention, they never actually get around to thanking or affirming those people. Instead, they just need to go ahead and thank them. When we begin our affirmations to someone else with “I”, what we’re really doing is putting ourselves first and foremost, which is just the opposite of what we’re trying to do when we affirm someone. If our intention is to thank and affirm the other person, we need to put them at the forefront through a sincere “Thank you”. When we remove those needless kinds of phrases, our affirmations will be much more genuine, direct, and sincere.

Make Eye Contact

When you are affirming someone, be sure to look the person in the eye to communicate sincerity. Eye contact is a part of our body language and is so important to fully and effectively communicate what our words are saying. If you’re looking away from someone while you are attempting to affirm them, your body language will trump any affirming words you have to say.

Yes, in some cultures making direct eye contact is disrespectful. So, if you’re living in or working in a culture like that, this may not be appropriate. Making eye contact is subject to the cultural context in which you live, and we make adjustments accordingly. In other cultures, making eye contact is not only customary, but is required to show respect and focused attention.

Make It About the Other Person

Don’t use flattery. Here are the differences between affirmations and flattery. If you make it about you, it’s not an affirmation. It’s flattery. If you’re saying something positive about someone to get something out of them, that’s flattery. If you do it to make yourself look good, that’s flattery. An affirmation is completely about the other person, while flattery is completely about you.

Be Honest

Don’t tell somebody something that’s not true. Don’t say something just to make the person feel good if it’s not true. We don’t want to see someone singing their heart out later in some public place because we have told them earlier they were such a great singer and then watch them getting booed off the stage. Don’t tell a child that they are some kind of superstar in their sports team if they’re not, for example, if they are exceptionally slow or not very athletic. Always be sure that the affirmation is truthful and not a lie just to stroke someone’s ego.

We all must be careful about those first impressions and what we are communicating to people when we interact with them the first time. As transformational leaders, we need to be aware of how we are coming across.

Affirm the Person Directly

Talk to the person; Don’t just talk about the person. He or she is right there in the room with you, so look and talk directly to them. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with sitting in a room and talking about how great someone else in the room is, but that’s not an affirmation. An affirmation happens when you turn toward that person, look them in the eye, and talk to the person about himself or herself.

Know When and Who to Affirm

An affirmation could be a thank-you. “You did this for me, and I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for that.” It could be about who they are that highlights something about them. “You are always so warm and welcoming.” They might regularly be, do, or say something that is so great it just seems obvious to you that people have affirmed them, but perhaps the reality may be that no one has ever told them. Or, it could be that what this person does or says or is may be obvious to everyone else, but maybe not to that person.

Give It a Try

Before the day is over, meet with someone you wish to affirm and affirm them face to face. Or, the next best option, if you choose someone you can’t meet with, pick up the phone and affirm them over the phone (which means you can’t look them in the eye, but you can express your heartfelt meaning through your tone of voice). Thank the person for something they did for you or share something positive about who the person is.

Being an affirming person and building an affirming culture in your family, your business, your sports team, your church, or whatever organization you belong to will literally shift that organization into a whole new place and onto a whole new level. If done well and if they become a part of a culture, affirmations can improve productivity as well as relationships while, at the same time, helping to improve people’s self-identities and removing the negativity and lies that might have been stored up in their self-identities.

When you make that phone call or meet with that person face-to-face, don’t forget that an affirmation is about the other person while flattery is about you.

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.