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One of the essential elements of extraordinary leadership is the ability to create and maintain positive relationships. In fact, we are happier and more successful as parents, spouses, friends, family members, and humans if we are amidst positive relationships. As leaders, we cannot cultivate the personal power that we need to motivate others unless we can create positive relationships. You can read more about the power of positivity and positive relationships here.

Research shows we need at least a five-to-one ratio of positive interactions to not-positive interactions in order to maintain a positive relationship. In one study, simply asking a student how homework was going was considered a negative interaction. Wow. That sets the bar for a positive interaction pretty high. The reality is that we don’t have a lot of positive interactions with others.

I first realized how few positive things that I was saying to others when my sons were in high school. I was in my coach training with the Coaches Training Institute. We had talked about the power of appreciation and acknowledgments. I realized that some days, I didn’t say even one nice thing to my children. I committed to saying at least one nice thing a day to each of them.

This tactic is a great way to start creating positive relationships. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is doable. It’s essential that the acknowledgment or appreciation be sincere. Bad nonverbal communication can kill a nice statement. Any hint of sarcasm will sabotage your efforts. Start by saying things that you truly believe.

The comments must never be about the appearance of a person; that is a compliment and not what we are going for. We want to say something meaningful about the person, which is an acknowledgment. Our other option is to show appreciation for an action. For me, appreciation is easier, so I started with that.

When I saw my sons doing something that I wanted to see them do again, I made a statement about it. I said things like, “Thank you for putting your dishes in the sink. I really appreciate it.” I meant it! I did appreciate them putting the dishes in the sink. I appreciated when they put away their laundry, drove safely, helped each other, and mowed the grass.

After telling them what I appreciated, I then told them why. The why is an important piece of the appreciation message. I was grateful when they mowed the lawn because it was an enormous effort for me that wiped me out for the rest of the day when I did it. I appreciated them putting the dishes in the sink because it made cleaning up after meals much faster – and I didn’t like that task any more than they did.

People are more likely to repeat the action when you comment on it in a positive way. They know you like it, and they like being appreciated. Maybe they never saw it as important before and now realize it’s a big deal to you. For whatever reason, people do things more often when they feel that those things are appreciated. Appreciation also builds the overall positivity of a relationship. It’s a win-win.

Acknowledgments are more difficult and more powerful. When we give someone an acknowledgment, we are commenting on positive qualities of that person – not their actions or their appearance – though an acknowledgment can begin by noticing an action. After all, we show our qualities through our actions.

I could say, “I saw you helping your brother with his physics homework. You are a kind person who takes time to help others.” Here is another example: “I was watching you work out in the driveway. You really are consistent in your exercising, and you are getting stronger. I admire your willpower and determination.”

It’s essential that the things we say are true. We can’t run around saying things we don’t mean. Trust me, people can tell if you are insincere. As I looked for positive things to say to my sons who were and are outstanding human beings, I wasn’t making things up. All their great qualities were there. Some I was aware of. Others I noticed for the first time as I began to really pay attention to who my sons were.

The sad part is that I had not told them much of the good I saw and felt for them. I’m not sure why. Part of the reason harkens back to the fact that we are hardwired to notice and hang on to the negative. Noticing the good around us is not something that comes naturally or that we are trained to do. I’m sure the fact that they were surly teenagers was also a contributing factor. Also, I just wasn’t very good at sharing feelings. Looking for positive actions and the good in others is a new habit that we must form. Forming new habits takes work.

I started by saying one positive thing a day. Weirdly enough, it was difficult, and I would forget my intention. However, over time giving appreciation and acknowledgments got easier. It felt more natural. I was in the habit of looking for good things and commenting on them. Believe me, that is huge! The ability to easily and naturally see the positive qualities and actions of others is crucial for great leadership.

My two sons were suspicious of my new behavior at first. I was talking to them in a different way suddenly. I’m sure that they wondered what I was up to. I told them after a bit. Transparency is usually the best way to go. I told them that I was working to notice and comment on the good things around me and that they were definitely some of the best things around me.

A delightful outcome that I didn’t see coming was that my high school-aged sons began saying nice things back. They told me when they appreciated things I was doing. They even pointed out some of my strengths. I cannot begin to express how touching that is. The dynamics of our relationships changed for the better.

Violá! We created positive relationships by increasing our number of positive interactions. When I say something positive about someone, it is positive for both of us, and vice versa. The boys and I enjoyed each other’s company more and increased our level of trust, which led to more meaningful conversations.

Saying one positive thing to someone every day is a simple way to begin to create a positive relationship. Man, there is no better way to decrease our expenditure of emotional pennies than to create positive relationships. The results are extraordinary, which is what we are looking for in extraordinary leadership.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.