“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Once in a while, my dog, Max, gets to see his friends at the dog spa. Grooming is expensive, but he’s a huge retriever, and the process takes a solid two hours.

Max loves the attention, the brushing, the one-on-one, the room full of other dogs, the pats, the strokes, the compliments.

We all need that kind of treatment occasionally. Not the hose-down, dematting and blow-dry so much as the affirmations. I was in a group once where every week someone would be singled out for “random accolades.” The only rule was that the affirmations had to be authentic. It was powerful.

As a leader, over the years I made it my mission to point out positives, compliment guys on their insight and thank them for their participation.

When I was a schoolteacher, I made a big sign for the wall in my classroom that read, “Research says it takes seven positives to balance out one negative; I say, ‘Why Risk It?’” I had it laminated. Then, I made another and hung one in the staff room for good measure.

There is a need for both affirmation and accountability, but I have found, time and again, that it is more effective to encourage the good than to constantly shine the spotlight on what’s wrong.

In the classroom, my most powerful interventions involved reinforcing positive behaviors that were incompatible with the negatives we wanted to eliminate.

Joseph was an autistic child who flapped his lips constantly, until they were bruised and bleeding. Other teachers and his parents had yelled at him, punished him, slapped his wrists and more. My approach was to encourage behaviors incompatible with lip flapping, reinforcing a variety of alternative fine motor tasks.

Everything I rewarded Joseph for doing with his hands was incompatible with lip flapping. The harmful behavior was extinguished within two weeks.

It may take more than a pat on the head, a gold star or a treat, but we all absolutely need the encouragement.

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Derek Maul
Derek Maul has written for many news outlets, including the Tampa Tribune, The United Methodist News Service, All Pro Dad, FOCUS Magazine, Newsweek, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, Presbyterians Today, Guideposts, Chicken Soup for the Soul and many other publications. Read Derek Maul’s daily blog posts at www.derekmaul.wordpress.com.