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The way you make me feel

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This famous quote by Maya Angelou is one I use often in my training, helping people to understand that you can have all sorts of business plans, mantras, key statements but the most important thing is how you make your staff and your clients feel.

But yesterday it hit home to me again exactly how important it is, as I had the privilege of going to a goodbye party for one of my former deputy headteachers and friend, Sue Padfield. She was leaving being a headteacher to do a masters degree and retrain as an Educational Psychologist. As I sat in the audience listening to the testimonial on all that she had done in the 22 years at the school, one thing rang true. It was not about standards or targets that had been achieved. It was not about figures, numbers or awards. It was about the difference she had made to people. It was about making children and staff feel valued. It was about how she knew every child by name. It was how she knew every child by their character. It was about how she made each child feel valued. And as each member of staff chatted around the room, it was about how she did the same for staff too.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It had been 11 years since I had seen many people in the room who had worked with me. Once most of them had got over the shock of me now not having hair on my head, they chatted to me about events they remembered in their time working with me. Many of them involved a monkey puppet I used in assemblies with the children and how he had been kidnapped just prior to my departure (maybe in attempt to make me stay). But talk soon turned again not to targets or data or performance, but to how they had felt working for me, how they had been encouraged, how they had been valued. If I am honest, I find it hard to sometimes accept praise, mainly because I don’t do things for praise. But, in contrast, each story also warmed my very being, reaffirming the vital importance that loving people for who they are, showing compassion and support, recognising their strengths, focusing on what they can do and encouraging them in it.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

But one story rose above the others. It was the story of a lovely lady, a gentle soul with immense ability to make children and adults feel safe. She had been a helping parent when I was at the school. I saw that she had a great talent of working with children and had encouraged her to apply to be a teaching assistant. She was a shy lady, not fully aware of her talent, but we encouraged her to join the team. Something she did and was great at it. The lady I saw in front of me that night still had her natural humility, but she was someone who had grown in confidence in a job that she was clearly very good at and whose new colleagues praised her for the support she gave them. And as she continued to chat to me, it was all because she had been made to feel valued, recognised and capable by me and the team around her. I was immensely proud of the great TA she had become. But the story took on more impact, as she thanked me for the extra tuition for her son and his friend in his maths to achieve the higher level. In fairness, her son and his friend were an absolute joy to work with and so the pleasure was often mine. But the pleasure was magnified tenfold when she explained how he had got a 1st class honours degree in statistics, but more importantly how he still recounts today the support he had as a person, not just in his maths, and how he was valued and understood.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So you could be forgiven to think that making people feel good is just about being nice to someone. Is it that people like Sue are just nice people, always being nice, always dodging difficult issues and pulling people up on things? If you spoke to everyone in the room who worked with me and Sue, I am sure they will tell you that we had to tackle some difficult things in my seven years as headteacher of that school. We were amalgamating two schools to be one, so trust me there were lots of difficult decisions and tough conversations to be had. It is not about just having easy, cosy conversations. It is about how you approach people.

So is there a magic formula? Is it just that some people are good at making people feel good? For me there are 8 key things.

  • People: See people as people, whole people, not just a worker. Get to know them, what they like, their interests and family, what brings them joy and what winds them up.

  • Invest: Invest in people positively whenever you can, so if you need to have tough conversations they know that you care for them as a whole person

  • Recognise: Recognise their strengths. Tell them. Encourage them in them. Recognise their strengths with others.

  • Thank you: Say thank you privately, publicly and behind people’s back whenever you can

  • Fun: Have fun together, smile, laugh, share a joke. Even let your monkey puppet be kidnapped if need be!

  • Listen: Listen to people, weigh up what they say. If you make a decision they don’t agree with, respect their point of view but then explain why.

  • Why: When you have tough conversations, explain why it needs to happen. Give people time to digest difficult things.

  • Compassion: Recognise emotions. Give time to listen to people. Show compassion when it is needed with in work and out of work issues. That time and compassion will normally come back to you ten-fold. They will be your most loyal supporters afterwards ready to help you or fight your corner if you ever need it.

How you make people feel is a very powerful thing. It not only has the power to make or break a person, it has the power to create ripples beyond yourself. When someone experiences encouragement that makes them feel worth something, they like a wave, ripple that on to others. It becomes a play it forward moment. Sadly, the same can be said when someone is made to feel broken or worthless that too can get passed on to others. So the question for those of us who lead others is what reputation do you want? What waves do you want to be making? What culture do you want to create? Which culture has a positive impact on your work community and results?

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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