This morning my husband said at breakfast, out of the blue: “You keep a nice house.” He had never commented one way or another on the state of housekeeping around here, and I had wondered what he thought. He had lived in many houses in his life, and I had no way of knowing where my house fell in the spectrum of his experience.
When he said this, my first reaction was to be pleased—and my second reaction was to clean the house today, so that he would have even more reason to think it nice. If he had said, “I love you, Andrée, but the house is not very well-maintained,” I do not think I would have felt inspired to clean. It might have been said lovingly, but it would not have produced in me the zeal that a compliment did.
I have noticed this same phenomenon with my kids. When I scold Calvin, I get inertia; when I commend him, I get “the extra mile.” “Calvin, your room is a mess” is ineffectual. “Calvin, your room is so clean” is invigorating and empowering and stokes pride in a tidy room. “Calvin, I haven’t seen you read your Bible” is ineffectual. “Calvin, I came across all the notebooks you have filled with Bible mediations” will make him look for his Bible and notebook again.
Not as if we manipulate others. But we learn to know what “works” in life—what the Bible calls “wisdom.”
Once when one of my sons was in need of a rebuke, my other son said, “Mom, why don’t you give him a compliment sandwich?” A compliment sandwich might go something like this in a teacher-pupil setting: “Billy, (1) you did a wonderful job on the multiple choice section of the test; (2) You need to work on your essays; (3) I am confident that you can improve in all areas with a little work.
I don’t know why encouragement and finding good in someone works better than criticism and fault-finding. It almost isn’t fair. Now I have taken out my vacuum cleaner and sponges to clean the bathroom, which I had no intention of doing when I woke up this morning.