A few weeks ago I received a thank you note from someone who attended one of my corporate workshops on how to maximize business relationships. The person was thoughtful in sending the note, but I especially appreciated the specific reference to the best practices that resonated with her and how she planned to apply them in her life. The note of gratitude and the lessons it contained have stuck with me and been the catalyst for some deeper thinking about the importance of random acts of praise, kindness and gratitude or “RAPKG” for short.
I have long observed that despite the myriad ways we are connected (in a superficial way) to each other through technology and social media, the opportunities for genuine and more substantive relationships are diminishing. It may be that our interest in building stronger relationships is fading as well. It is important that we fight past this growing cultural norm and RAPKG is a helpful way to do it. Consider the numerous opportunities we have each day to reach out to our work colleagues, clients or extended network of friends and offer a brief message of praise for a job well-done, do something kind for them or express our gratitude for something they may have done for us. This approach costs us nothing and will not only help us strengthen old relationships and foster new ones, but it is also a worthwhile and noble practice we should all follow.
In order for RAPKG to thrive, we need to be intentional, selfless, measured and specific. First, I recommend we incorporate some intentionality into our “randomness” and put RAPKG on our calendar every Monday morning. Let this serve as a reminder to reflect on the people we encountered the previous week and who we want to reach out to with a note, call, email or meeting request to offer praise, kindness or gratitude. I do this weekly and it takes less than 30 minutes. Helpful Tip: If you feel compelled to act in the moment or want to practice RAPKG sooner, don’t wait for Mondays!
Second, let’s be selfless and don’t attach expectations to our RAPKG. Make it about others and not about us. This practice should be about giving to others and we should never keep score. We will reap rewards down the road in unexpected and delightful ways if we look at RAPKG like dropping a pebble in a pond. The ripple effect of our selfless acts will have a positive impact on the recipient and possibly others as they begin the practice towards people in their extended circles.
Third, we should be measured in how we practice RAPKG, especially in the area of praise. Unrestrained praise given out too frequently has the effect of negating the positive impact we intended. If everything is praise-worthy, then nothing is praise-worthy. A measured approach to praise, when it is truly deserved, is always best. Acting in a measured way is less important for sharing kindness and gratitude and my only advice is to start small and expand your efforts gradually as you begin to cultivate this practice in your daily life. This will help you feel less overwhelmed by the daily opportunities to practice RAPKG.
Finally, we need to be specific in our application of RAPKG. Don’t reach out and say, “Hey, I just wanted you to know I think you are awesome!” Though well intended, we will miss an opportunity with this vague message to specifically praise a behavior or action we want to encourage more of in the other person. If someone does something for which we are grateful, tell him or her exactly what it was that inspired our gratitude. Helpful Tip: Specificity is not as strictly applied to our random acts of kindness, as ALL acts of kindness, no matter how small, are good. Remember that an act of kindness can also be candid and challenging feedback delivered in a respectful manner to a colleague or friend.
Ways to Apply RAPKG
Over the last few weeks I took the time to document a few opportunities I have had to apply RAPKG, which I hope will inspire creative ways for you to make this practice work in your own lives:
- I sent a note to one of my coaching clients praising her for the excellent leadership I observed from her in a meeting she led for her entire organization. She did an outstanding job that I wanted to acknowledge and I also let her know I shared the positive feedback with her boss. Helpful Tip: Always keep thank you notes on hand. They are a great way to apply RAPKG and mean more than emails.
- Last week, I took time out of a particularly hectic day to have a long conversation with a security guard who works for one of my corporate clients about his upcoming weekend plans and asked how his family was doing. He is one of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met who always greets people with a smile and I am grateful to know him. How often do we stop and invest in a conversation with the countless people we encounter from all stations in life and treat them as they deserve with courtesy, respect and kindness? “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa)
- I had an opportunity last week to express gratitude to my wife for a difficult conversation she had with our youngest son. She handled it beautifully and got our son back on track. My wife was not aware I heard the conversation, but it meant a lot to her that I recognized the difficulty and thanked her.
Examples of RAPKG from Others
- A senior executive sent flowers and a thank you note to the wife of one of his direct reports to express his gratitude for how she supported and encouraged her husband during an extremely difficult period for the company.
- A newly hired team member for one of my clients was forced to stand in for her sick boss to give a nerve wracking and difficult presentation to the senior executive team on her 10th day with the company. She received a hand-written note from the CEO that afternoon praising her efforts and offering suggestions for ways to make it even better. The CEO also offered to mentor the new team member once a month and help her acclimate to the company.
- A consultant friend of mine long ago started the practice of making donations to the favorite causes of her clients in their name at Christmas and for other special occasions (an idea I have borrowed!). Instead of the usual fruit or cookie baskets, she demonstrates her understanding of what truly matters to her clients with her kind and thoughtful gifts in their name.
- We can invest time in someone who is looking for a job and offer advice and access to our network.
- Give the gift of a book that had a positive effect on us to someone who would also benefit from reading it.
- Treat our team to lunch and thank them for their hard work after a difficult project.
- Offer the gift of mentorship and advice to a younger colleague and invest in their success.
- Reach out to a colleague who is experiencing difficulties outside of work and offer encouragement and a listening ear.
- Practice gratitude in every area of our lives. “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I would love to tell you that I have RAPKG all figured out, but I do not. I likely miss a significant number of opportunities each week to practice it, but I am sincerely trying to improve and feel that I am making progress. Any effort in this area will have a positive impact on others and contribute to my personal and professional growth…and that makes RAPKG even more worthwhile.
The Fruits of RAPKG
The pay-it-forward ripple effect of practicing RAPKG is obvious and proven from my years of observation and experience, but there are other fruits to be had from putting this into practice. Here are a few:
- Improve the Quality of Our Relationships. If we are interested in finding meaningful ways to actively engage with our business network outside of the usual agenda, this is an excellent option. The quality of these relationships will grow as a result of our thoughtful outreach. RAPKG removes barriers and fosters trust.
- Join the Ranks of the Exceptional. The men and women I have encountered over the years who actively and quietly engage in RAPKG are often recognized as exceptional leaders within their organizations.
- Overcome Division. There is much division and animosity in our society that often spills over into the workplace, forcing us into cliques or silos. Practicing random acts of praise, kindness and gratitude, if done well, transcends division and is indifferent to political affiliation, race, religious preferences, titles, sexual orientation or socio-economic backgrounds.
RAPKG is not another company program or flavor of the month concept. This is about reaching out in a positive way to the people we encounter every day in work and life with a different mindset. We control this mindset and there are no barriers or limits except the ones we create for ourselves. In addition to the numerous reasons I have shared in this post for why RAPKG is important, it is simply the right thing to do. The workplace and the world could be transformed through more random acts of praise, kindness and gratitude if we will have the courage to positively change how we engage with those around us.
Who will be the beneficiary of our RAPKG today?
Randy Hain is the president of Serviam Partners, the award-winning author of seven books, an executive coach, leadership consultant and thought leader on business relationships.