by Faith Monson
When I got a gold star as a kid, I felt happy and proud. Getting that gold star meant that my work was recognized. Gold stars were special, acknowledging exceptional work, and not everyone got one. That made them precious. It meant a lot to me as a child to know that I had done something my teacher thought was outstanding.
Not only was a gold star a reward for good work; it was also a big motivational boost. Once I got one gold star, I wanted more. And when I found out that some teachers would give TWO gold stars for truly amazing work, I ratcheted my goals even higher to meet that criteria.
Fast forward a few decades, and I find that gold stars and applause are two of my favorite coaching tools. Most people have warm memories around earning a gold star from a favorite teacher, and even the shyest person appreciates well-earned applause. But once we’re out of school, gold stars and applause are harder to find. In the “real world”, too many bosses, team leaders and other authority figures put more emphasis on pointing out shortcomings than on celebrating a job well done. We get hungry for someone to acknowledge when we’ve done our best work.
Verbal praise is very important when a coaching client achieves a goal, but I’ve found that many adults automatically deflect praise. As we get older, it seems we are often more attuned to the negatives than to the positives, and we often hear—and recall—negative comments much more clearly than we allow ourselves to absorb positive words.
That’s why I love gold stars and applause. People may ignore or choose not to accept your words of praise, but when you add a verbal “gold star” and applause, it’s much easier for positive comments to make it past their defenses and really create an impression. People of every age deserve and need validation and acknowledgement for their hard work and great ideas. This is especially true when the road to achieving a dream is long and fraught with setbacks. Praise and recognition can make the difference between someone going on or giving up. It’s powerful stuff.