When was the last time you paid someone a genuine, specific compliment about something they did?
It’s a rare treat in radio to be certain. I know for me, I usually hear about the good things and positive impact I make during my final week on the job. It’s flattering for sure and a little depressing that it takes my resignation to trigger genuine compliments – and often times I’m so surprised I blush.
“Wow, I did that? Cool.”
The other day, I was talking to someone who wasn’t sure if a trusted and dear friend enjoyed her work, because she’d never said so. She didn’t NEED the validation, but she really WANTED it. She wants people to enjoy her work and hoped they ‘get it’ and appreciate it.
I imagine we believe we’re too busy to notice good things. We are so focused on improving the product by highlighting what’s wrong that we don’t have the time to showcase and reinforce what’s right. Accentuating the negative is an ongoing issue in our industry that I blame Arbitron for (why not?). Because of fluctuating ratings, we believe something is always broken, wrong, needs fixing or changed. We (radio programmers, general managers, consultants, etc.) focus a lot of time and effort on insanely attempting to master almighty Arbitron and less on cultivating the great work from each other through our compliments.
There are other reasons we skip the niceties too. Some of us are too insecure of our own talents, too afraid to shine a light away from ourselves, or too intimidated by others to speak up. What else? You know that feeling when you want to say something, but you’re not sure what to say and you don’t want to sound stupid? That feeling often keeps us from saying anything at all. There are also factions of folks in radio who don’t believe it’s their job to compliment others (but no doubt they’ll talk negative behind your back). And then there are those who assume people hear how good they are all the time from other people, so why bother.
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another.
Here’s a secret. No one hears how good they are or receives compliments on the exceptional things they do – often enough. Whether you are talent, management, sales, production, news, board op, promotions, engineering or the front desk assistant, you want compliments and people want to receive compliments from you.
And it’s scientifically proven to make people better at their job. A research study published in November by a team of Japanese scientists in the Public Library of Science’s scientific journal PLOS ONE found proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward (a compliment). The team previously discovered that the area of the brain known as the striatum is activated equally when a person is rewarded via a compliment or cash.
Compliments inspire, empower and make people feel awesome. People want and need to feel appreciated for what they do – even the guys with big egos and the women with rock-n-roll attitudes. People need to feel respected, feel valued and have good self-esteem. This is the fourth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow even said when people do not have self-respect they feel incompetent and weak. Raise your hand if you want employees and co-workers who feel incompetent and weak!
Plus, there’s the side benefit of positive reinforcement. Your one minute of telling someone how much you “loved” this or how “great” that was has the power to motivate that person to repeat that behavior and continue to be great over and over again.
And just as powerful is our silence. Not providing appreciation and recognition for great work is de-motivating and demoralizing. It’s a hallway buzz kill that makes everyone feel “less than.” Nothing like a radio station full of passionless drones who feel unappreciated, undervalued and overworked. But that would never happen in radio, right?
So how do you do it? David Stewart, an eHow.com contributor, has an easy step-by-step process on complimenting someone at work.
1. Find something specific and genuine that you like about your colleague.
2. Choose the right words that help express your appreciation.
3. Begin a compliment with “you.”
4. Provide a specific example of what you noticed, observed.
5. Notice and recognize small things that matter. Don’t wait for major events to show appreciation.
For example; “You have a real knack for self-improvement and positivity. I noticed you reading the Larry Gifford Media blog today and it just reminded me how much I admire the amount of time and effort you take to better yourself. Thanks for setting a good example for everyone else.”
(Paying a compliment is one of 13 ways you can be a better co-worker according to Reader’s Digest.)
Now, go forth and compliment. Let others know you appreciate them. No strings attached. No expectations. Just be kind, be genuine and be generous with your praise. It’s good for team morale, personal self-esteem and productivity. Oh, and did I mention it’s free (and not just to the 12th caller).
Everyone: Hi Larry!
I am a recovering high school drama geek. I was in the plays and musicals, auditioned for and was accepted into a collegiate theater program, I wore a dance belt and tights (a few times), I took piano lessons, learned how to breath “properly,” explored the history of theater and more. (Lucky for me, the radio station was housed in the basement of the theater – thus, avoiding a career as a New York City waiter.) Of all my theater experiences, the one that comes in handy in every job I have is improv.
On the air or off – improv skills have served me well. Let me just say upfront, if you are a producer, a host, an anchor, a reporter, or a programmer – invest in some improv classes for yourself – it will make you better at your job. It teaches you how to be in present in the moment and hones your ability to listen, react, adapt, create, innovate, play, contribute, and actively engage with the people you work with. Who doesn’t want that?
I was reminded of this while watching Tina Fey discuss the rules of improv while on Inside The Actors Studio this week. (A show that I unabashedly enjoy and one that I’ve paid homage to in my Inside The Bonneville Studios interviews – here with Luke Burbank, Linda Thomas, Brock & Salk and Dori Monson). Tina Fey honed her skills at Second City in Chicago before going to Saturday Night Live. In her book, “Bossypants,” she wrote down the rules of improv that she’s adapted as a world view and she claims they’ve changed her life.
“The Rules of Improvisation that will change your life and Reduce Belly Fat” (p84-85)
- AGREE – always agree & SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun” and you say, “That’s not a gun, it’s your finger” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if you instead say “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is a Christmas gun. In real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. but the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open minded place. Start with YES and see where that takes you.
- Not only say yes, but say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here” and you say “Yeah…” we are at a stand-still, but if you say “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures” now we’re getting somewhere. YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
- MAKE STATEMENTS – Don’t ask questions all the time. If I ask continuous questions I am putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. Make statements with your actions and your voice. For instance, instead of saying “Where are we?”, make a statement like “Here we are in Spain”.
- THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bike, but you think I’m a hamster in a wheel, then now I’m a hamster in a wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discovered have been by accident. For instance, Reese’s PB Cup & Botox.
So, how many times do you or your on-air partners disagree with, disregard or discredit something the other said so you can one-up them, make a better point, or deliver a pithier punch line? Or you’re not sure what to say about a topic or how to move it forward, so you continually just ask questions of your co-host or the audience? Or a sound-byte doesn’t fire and you feel a need to explain to listeners it was supposed to be there – maybe even through your board op or producer under the bus – when in reality the audience had no clue it was coming? All of these are violations of improv.
Other improvisionalists have other rules. For instance, at TEDxVictoria, David Morris offered seven rules. (10 minute Ted Talk here)
- Play. The idea of engaging in something just because you like it.
- Let Yourself Fail. LET is the key. Failing is easy. The hard part is being okay with it. As soon as you start fearing failure you get trapped in your head. Failing does not make you a failure. Just fail, improvise and start again.
- Listen. Listen with all your being. Most people listen just enough to be able to respond. True listening is the willingness to change. If you are not willing to change based on what someone is saying, you are not listening. You are just letting them talk, before you respond.
- Say YES. A series of YES’s will take us somewhere. A single NO shuts down the entire journey.
- Say AND. YES-men are great. AND-men are people we want to work with. They say, “Yes, I like your idea!” AND they add to the creation.
- Play the Game. Anything that has rules is a game whether that’s playing Monopoly or filling out a job application. Rules free us up to improvise. Restrictions funnel our creative process to a create a product.
- Relax and have fun. It will lead to a more enjoyable life.
Improv isn’t about comedy. As David Morris’ pointed out in his Ted talk, MacGyver is one of the great improvisers of our time and he dealt in explosives. Whether you’re trying to save the World, save your ratings or save a segment; learn to improvise.
I do not condone Rush Limbaugh’s word choice and characterizations of Sandra Fluke. No woman deserves to be called a “slut” or ” prostitute” or any other derogatory phrase. I do not condone ex-WDAE morning guy Dan Sileo’s characterization of three African American NFL players as “monkeys.” Howard Cosell was fired nearly 30 years ago for pretty much the same thing. I also heard the “n” word un-bleeped on a syndicated show last week, which I do not condone.
So here are my questions…And answers.
Why is this happening? How is this happening? Who is to blame? Who is responsible? How does this impact radio? How should radio deal with it?
Talk radio is a tight rope walk. We ask talent to spend three hours a day entertaining, informing, dishing big opinions and driving conversations. We want hosts to “cut through the clutter,” “be passionate,” and “take risks,” while simultaneously protecting our company brands. This is hard to do and mistakes will happen. This is why companies provide a net in the form of board operators and producers. Talent need to rely on and respect these roles more — and the people in these positions need to speak up and take action when a talent crosses the line. Here is an idea; use the dump button…or tell the host they’ve gone too far. If you sit there and laugh with them like it’s a 1960s fraternity house, the content will likely degenerate. This isn’t the producer and board operators fault, but it is their responsibility along with the host.
What frustrates me is that radio is getting beat up as a dying industry everywhere I look and these outdated, racist, sexist, and irresponsible comments reinforce those claims and further suggest the medium is irrelevant and obsolete. The reality is radio has been and can continue to be a remarkable platform for lively debate and conversation about important issues and help to provide understanding. At its best talk radio is informative, entertaining, compelling, thought provoking, in-the-moment, interesting, fun and relevant. As an industry we provide the sound track to people’s life, we start conversations, we tell stories of triumph and tragedy to better understand the human condition, we care for and take care of our communities, and we create an invisible, powerful, connective tissue through the lives of our listeners which creates an amazing bond that has helped stations across the country in the past year alone raise millions and millions of dollars for good causes.
That being said, we are in a business that requires an understanding that things will get said that shouldn’t be said. Mistakes happen. This is talk radio. We will provoke at times and upset groups of people. As a PD it is my job to be calm in the middle of the storm. Programming decisions should never be made in the middle of a fire storm. It is our job (my job) to listen to the people complaining, listen to the actual audio of what was said, and then formulate my response. If lines were crossed –apologies should be made (as insincere as you may think he was, at least Rush did this). And then after everyone takes a deep breath, ask yourself a couple of questions; is this show representative of the kind of show you want on your station? Does it attract the audience you are targeting? Is the host chronically crossing the line ( your line, the FCC’s line, the community standards)? and if so, is the reward ( ratings and revenue) worth the risk? We are in the radio business and we need to make business decisions.
Finally, radio needs a shot in the arm and not another punch to the gut. Somehow, someway everyone who believes as strongly in this medium as I do needs to be actively promoting its awesomeness. 90+% of everyone (a totally made up stat) listens to radio. They are already believers in the medium, let’s remind them of it. Tell your friends why you love radio (#iloveradio) and I will do the same. Together we can rekindle people’s passion for absolutely free, wireless, instant information and entertainment available nationwide at the touch of a button…that is still legal to access while driving.
Nearly everyday I get a request from somebody for “feedback.” Sometimes it’s an employee, sometimes a peer or mentor, and sometimes a complete stranger out-of-the-blue wanting “an honest assessment of their work.”
This is tricky.
In nearly every situation, I find most people — and yes, you maybe the exception – are looking to find out what’s “right” about what they are doing. They are looking for positive feedback, affirmation, and reassurance. They crave a verbal hug.
But, “feedback” and “honest assessments” are typically just the opposite.
Programmers are taught to listen for what’s wrong, not what’s right. And it’s still my instinct too.
I listen to a tape/cd/mp3 and think, ”that was weak, that’s not right, that missed the mark, what is she thinking?, why would he say that? where are they going with this bit?”
Is that what you’re looking for? Or do you want to know what’s right?
My experience tells me the latter. Nearly every time I’ve provided an “honest assessment” of a talent’s work it leads to defensiveness, excuses, and rebellion (ie. I don’t care what you think, I’m going with my gut.)
The key, as with most things, is balance. I’m working hard to focus on strengths and weaknesses, knowing it’s easier to enhance a strength than overcome a weakness. This doesn’t mean weaknesses aren’t worth overcoming, but it certainly takes more effort and time.
The easiest solution to this is to ask for what you want. Instead of asking for general feedback, ask for specifics;
- What am I doing right?
- How can I do better?
- What’s missing from my performance?
- How can I increase TSL?
- What can I do differently to be more valuable to the radio station?
- How can improve the listener experience?
- Where should I focus more of my effort?
Specific questions lead to specific answers. Be prepared – you may just get what you ask for.
“Updates? Sports? Talk host? Farm Report? I’m your gal!”
More than one applicant has told me, “I can do anything and everything. Just tell me what you want.”
That’s a warning sign to me. I believe talent is art, not manufacturing.
I want unique. I want different. I want authentic. I want clever, creative, and distinctive. I want someone who fits in to my station and stands out. I am always looking for talent who are true to themselves.
When I listen to demos I’m listening for talent who have found their voice, who are certain who they are and know what they do best. If talent tries to cater their demo to what they think I’m looking for, I can hear it. It comes across as trying too hard to impress, uncomfortable, uncertain, or as playing the role of a host or anchor, instead of being it.
How do you do that? Practice, practice, practice. And it probably takes 10,000 hours of doing radio to truly find your voice and personality. (see: Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from “Outliers”). Your voice is an instrument. It takes time and reps to figure out all that it can do and how to do it. For me, the journey included re-learning how to breathe to better support my voice, how to use pacing, pausing, pitch, tone, enunciation, intonation and body movement, and how to write specifically for my voice and listener’s ears and not for my eyes.
The other thing to remember is one program director‘s opinion is just that — one program director’s opinion. What I perceive of your talent is personal to me and my experiences. The next program director that listens to your demo will evaluate your talent differently. That’s why it is so important to be yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to reinvent your style and personality everywhere you go. That’s a lot of work and will make it very difficult to build your brand. Imagine if Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Rick Dees, Carson Daly, and Ryan Seacrest changed who they were and what they did at every stop along their career path.
The balancing act as a talent comes when you get hired. It’s a delicate dance of being yourself and integrating your brand into the radio station brand. Ideally, the sum is greater than the parts (1 + 1 = 3). You AND the station are exponentially better. That means working with the program director and station colleagues to maximize results without compromising your art.
Sometimes you have to ask for what you want.
Sometimes you have to ask what your employees CAN do.
Sometimes you have to ask what your boss expects from you.
Sometimes you have to ask how to be better.
Sometimes you have to ask permission.
Sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness.
Sometimes you have to ask how you can improve.
Sometimes you have to ask how to do it differently.
Sometimes you have to ask for help.
Sometimes you have to ask, “How can I help?”
Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s missing?”
Sometimes you have to ask a stranger for a favor.
Sometimes you have to ask someone their name.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What do you do?”
Sometimes you have to ask for feedback.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s next?”
Sometimes you have to ask, “Is this the best way?”
Sometimes you have to ask for someone’s attention.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What if…”
Sometimes you to ask. And that’s okay.