The more we practice micro-affirmations, the more automatic these little gestures become.
Growing up, whenever I couldn’t find my dad he’d invariably turn out to be in the shed, surrounded by sawdust, making something interesting — baseball bats, pennywhistles, chess pieces. And he’d be listening to the guys on sports radio. But when he’d look up from the belt sander or table saw and notice me in the doorway, he’d always, almost automatically, reach over and switch the radio off. Even if I didn’t have anything to say, and even if I wasn’t planning to stay.
Even as a 10-year-old, I understood this was a gesture of love. He was making space for me. He was offering me his full attention, even if I wasn’t looking for it.
The term “microaggression” is used to mean all kinds of things, but its most general, colloquial use refers to a subtle slight that you make, maybe unintentionally, that nevertheless sends a clear message of disrespect. Microaggressions can really sting. (I’m remembering the boiler repairman who remarked, “I don’t usually explain things to wives.” Ouch.)
My father was doing the opposite. Switching the radio off when I walked in was a “micro-affirmation.” It may have been small, but it conveyed something huge: you matter to me. Now that I’m aware of them, I’m seeing micro-affirmations everywhere. These are some easy ones we can build into our every day lives that are more powerful than they first appear:
Use people’s names
Hearing your own name stands out to the brain as different from any other word. When I worked as a bank teller, we were trained to use a customer’s name at least three times in an interaction — it felt impossibly clumsy at first, but the more I did it, the more I realized that it makes a big difference to people. They always seemed to appreciate it. It’s a way to make any interaction more personal.
Have you ever told a friend all about something important to you, only to be met with a nod? It’s a little deflating. Asking a few questions in response to what somebody’s told you is a way to show them that you’re really listening.
Mirror the other person’s emotion
You don’t have to pretend to be anything you’re not, but responding to enthusiasm with joy and sadness with sympathy does more than words can do to show somebody that you really see them.
Respond to “bids”
Relationship researcher John Gottman says that the strongest marriages are built when spouses make a point to respond to their partner’s bids for connection. It’s as simple as noticing that your partner is looking for a response, and using the moment to show them, however briefly, that you care — and it’s as powerful among friends as it is between husband and wife.
What’s beautiful about becoming aware of how much potential our interactions have to be full of “micro-affirmations” is that the more we practice, the more automatic these little gestures become. It’s honestly a pretty easy and straightforward way to become more supportive, more loving and respectful, to the people in our world.