Steps to Meaningful Affirmation

September 16, 2019 9:00 am Published by

Learn how positive affirmation can improve your work culture

To affirm someone is to say something positive about someone directly to him or her. It is about 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. Think of someone who has done something special for you. Maybe you think the person knows you appreciate the favor, but maybe you’ve never actually told him or her. Consider affirming that person directly, and see what happens. Let’s explore how to do that.

Remove insincere phrases.

First, remove phrases in your affirmation like “I would like to” or “I want to.” Have you ever watched those award shows on television when the people go up, get their award, and say, “I would like to thank my mom and dad. I want to thank my spouse. I would like to affirm the director.” But if you pay close attention, they never actually thanked or affirmed those people.

When you remove those kinds of phrases, your affirmations will be much more genuine and sincere.

Make eye contact.

When you’re affirming someone, be sure to look the person in the eye to communicate sincerity.

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. In other cultures, making eye contact is customary. So, make the decision based on your cultural context.

Make it about the other person. (Don’t use flattery.)

If you make it about you, it’s not an affirmation; it’s flattery. If you’re doing it to get something out of someone, 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 exaggerate, “You’re the best administrative assistant in the world!” Typically, overstating a compliment doesn’t ring true and undermines their trust in what you have to say (about anything).

Don’t affirm someone who is not good at something because you are expecting that to motivate them to raise their performance. That seldom works. That is a time for correction, not affirmation.

Be sure the affirmation is truthful and not a lie just to make someone feel good.

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.

Now there’s nothing 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 the person, look them in the eye, and talk to the person about himself or herself.

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. It could be something that’s so obvious but that no one tells them. It may be obvious to everyone else but not to that person.

Don’t just affirm exceeding expectations. Learn to affirm the expected and watch the performance continue to get better. There is a minority group of people that will take advantage of that, however, don’t allow that to make everyone else suffer.

Take action. Before the day is over, either pick up the phone and affirm someone (which means you can’t look at them in the eye), or meet with the person to affirm him or her face to face. Thank the person for something positive about who the person is.

Being an affirming person and building an affirming culture in your organization will literally shift your organization into a whole new place and onto a whole new level. If done well and if affirmations become a part of a culture, they can increase productivity while helping to improve people’s view of themselves.


This article is adapted from Ford Taylor’s book Relactional Leadership: When Relationships Collide with Transactions: Practical Tools for Every Leaders.

Ford TaylorFord 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. His career has taken him around the globe and continues to thrive on the foundations the interpersonal focus, agility, adaptability, and innovation required in today’s dynamic marketplace. Ford and his wife of 37 years, Sandra, live in College Station, Texas. They are blessed with three lovely daughters, Whitney, Emily, and Quincy. To learn more, visit


“A loud and consistent champion of Appreciation at Work, Ford provides amazing transformational training for leaders.” – Dr. Paul White


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Published by
September 16, 2019 9:00 am


  • Carri says:

    I like this! All of it! And it’s so true about removing the “I would like to” thank ….. I started doing this along time ago and it does make a huge impact. When you say I appreciate you… Instead of saying “I want to thank you” for doing this or that. I have definitely Received a much better response and can see the difference when people see heartfelt gratitude.

    Thank you for this article! Very well said.

    • Paul White says:

      Thank you for your comment, Carri. We’re glad you liked the article and also that you’ve had success with your change of phrasing. Small changes really can make a difference.

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