One wife waited patiently, then impatiently, for her husband to repair the lawn mower as he had promised. One day, not wanting to confront him in anger, she tried another tack. That was the day he came home and found her seated on the ground snipping grass with sewing scissors, one blade at a time. He watched in absolute amazement. Then he went into the house and returned with a toothbrush.

“Honey,” he said, “when you finish cutting the grass would you mind sweeping the sidewalks?”

They both laughed. And, more importantly, he turned his attention to the mower.

We’ve all been there. We want to encourage a child to do her homework, or a spouse to complete a project, or a colleague to follow through. How can we encourage without criticizing, nagging, berating or pushing?

Maybe because I’m the one that occasionally has to be nudged, I’ve learned a few important things about the finer points of positive motivation.

First, whenever possible, try to keep it light-hearted. The careful use of humor can work in any relationship to make the point in a way it will be heard. Sometimes we are so frustrated we know that however we say it, it will be bound to come out wrong. These are especially the times when humor may be needed.

Second, without exception, be polite and respectful. Sometimes it’s more about how we say it than what we say. Too much of the world is run on the theory that you don’t need road manners if you drive a five-ton truck. No one wants to be forced, pushed, run over, cajoled or manipulated. They want to be respected.

Finally, as often as you can, show appreciation. Novelist Arnold Bennett had a publisher who boasted about the consistently exceptional work of his assistant. One day while visiting the publisher’s office, Bennett struck up a conversation with the valued employee. He told her what her boss said about her work. “What’s your secret?” he asked.

“It’s not my secret,” said the assistant, “it’s his.” She went on to tell him that her boss always acknowledges and appreciates everything she does, regardless how insignificant. That is why she finds it so easy to take pride in her work. The appreciation of her employer nudges her toward constant improvement.

These are a few of the finer points of positive motivation. And even if motivation is not your purpose, respect and appreciation, topped off with a little humor is bound to improve any relationship.

And so, we pray: Father, I have tried to be respectful with those who work for and with me over the years. I haven’t always succeeded in being as positive as I could have been. Forgive me for failing to be respectful in all my dealings with your people, and help me to go forward with greater respect in all my dealings. Amen

Grace and Peace

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