For work completely unrelated to AuPairMom, I’ve been researching the concept of “micro-affirmations”, which are the opposite of “micro-aggressions”. These are small, almost imperceptible behaviors towards one another than can either affirm or threaten another person. In organizations, they are the behavioral building blocks of an inclusive welcoming culture, or a dominating, oppressive one.
We know that explicit feedback like what we offer in family meetings, or formal feedback that we might need to give during a reset conversation, can be useful for ‘big’ corrections and adjustments. And little feedback, like micro-affirmations, can be useful not only for reinforcing positive things, but also for simply being grateful for the good that we enjoy any given day.
Here’s an excerpt from a well-known piece by Mary Rowe at MIT, outlining the concept of micro-affirmations. I thought about highlighting my favorite parts, but there are so many I’d have to bold the entire passage.
What are micro-affirmations?
Micro-affirmations (are) — apparently small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed.
Micro-affirmations are tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening.
Micro-affirmations lie in the practice of generosity, in consistently giving credit to others—in providing comfort and support when others are in distress, when there has been a failure at the bench, or an idea that did not work out, or a public attack. Micro-affirmations include the myriad details of fair, specific, timely, consistent and clear feedback that help a person build on strength and correct weakness.
How do micro-affirmations work?
Appropriately affirming the work of another person is likely both to help that person do well, and to help him or her to enjoy doing we second effect is that consistent, appropriate affirmation of others can spread from one person to another—potentially raising morale and productivity. …
Consistent, appropriate affirmation of others can spread from one person to another—potentially raising morale and productivity. (Micro-affirmations are helpful when you are) senior to another person, to “model” affirming behavior.
[This is especially critical for showing your children how they ought to treat other people, at the same time as you share with your family and your au pair the specific things that you’re appreciating.]
The Real Surprise to Me:
The third effect is subtle, and deals with the point that it may be hard for a person to “catch” himself or herself unconsciously behaving inequitably. I may not always be able to “catch myself” behaving in a way that I do not wish to behave. But if I try always to affirm others in an appropriate and consistent way, I have a good chance of blocking behavior of mine that I that I want to prevent. Many micro-inequities are not conscious, but affirming others can become a conscious and unconscious practice that prevents unconscious slights.
The aha of this third effect, for me, is the idea of crowding out the bad by filling the space of your attention and your interaction with the good.
Bonus: This behavior nudges the same kind of positive shift for the people you’re interacting with:
Reinforce and reward good behavior that, as it takes place, is inconsistent with, and blocks, the (bad) behavior that you hope will disappear….
Small wins, tiny adjustments, big rewards.
Image from SunandMoonCrafts on Etsy.