A high school class was graduating in 1901 and among the graduating students was valedictorian, Charlie Ross. As he stepped up to receive his diploma, his English teacher, Tillie Brown, the most loved teacher in the school, came up to congratulate Charlie personally with a kiss.
Some of the other graduates felt left out; they wanted special recognition too. After the ceremony, a group of them came over to talk with Miss Brown. But she stood her ground. Charlie had worked hard and deserved special recognition. When they had done something worthwhile, she would have a kiss for them too.
Charlie went on to accomplish a great deal. He worked hard and eventually became the White House press secretary, personally chosen by President Harry Truman. And one of the first tasks President Truman gave to Charlie was to call Charlie's high-school English teacher and deliver a message from the President: "How about that kiss I never got? Have I done something worthwhile enough to rate it now?" Harry Truman was one of the kids that approached Miss Brown after the graduation ceremony, and he hadn't forgotten her promise.
Les Giblin, in his book, How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People, says that people are hungry for acceptance, approval and appreciation. This should come as no great shock to you. I want these three things from my fellow humans; you want these three things; everyone wants them. All the techniques you'll find in Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People have one aim in mind: to feed this deep human hunger.
"Put out a T-bone steak on your back door step," wrote Giblin, "and you don't have to ride herd on the dogs in your neighborhood to get them to come. They'll be there. And when word gets around that you have in stock the three basic foods…[acceptance, approval, appreciation] people will be attracted to you in the same way."
If you conduct your practice of people-skills from this perspective, from this originating principle, your practice will be respectful of both yourself and of others. If you do not, the practice of people-skills can easily devolve into simply manipulation of others to get what you want, or even worse, as a form of groveling to get others to like you.
To the outside observer, all three of these different motivations may seem to manifest in the same way; in other words, from the outside, these all may look the same to the casual observer — calling people by name, refraining from criticizing others, going out of your way to praise people. But the feeling of practicing people skills with the intention of giving people what they hunger for is a totally different feeling from the other two (manipulation or groveling). It not only feels different to you, but the ultimate result is much better.
People are usually capable of perceiving your real motivations, and they will not respond well to either manipulation or groveling. They will resist and reject manipulation and distrust you. And they will not respect anyone who grovels to get people to like them.
But if you see the real situation — that everyone has some degree of social anxiety, and that what they crave for reassurance is acceptance, approval, and appreciation — you can practice people-skills with respect for yourself and others. Everyone wins. When you treat people with this intention, you will get good responses from people, but don't focus on what you're getting. Focus on helping people feed their hunger. Honestly and respectfully.
It is fairly easy to slip into dishonesty: Praising things or expressing approval for things you do not actually approve of or appreciate, because that's the easy way. Feeding that deep human hunger with honesty requires practice and skill. It requires looking for what you actually approve of and appreciate. It requires you to refrain from judging people, not only outwardly, but also in the privacy of your mind. Practicing people-skills in this way will make you a better person. Let's now look at the three human hungers in a little more detail.
As Giblin points out, we want people to accept us as we are. That's the definition of a friend: Someone you can be yourself with. We all have a bandwidth of acceptance. For some people, this bandwidth isn't very wide at all. It is a narrow range, and everyone outside that corridor is disapproved of. They don't approve of the way you're dressed or the way you talk or your religion or your skin color, etc. It is much more comfortable and satisfying to converse with someone who accepts us as we are and does not excessively judge and condemn us at every opportunity. And we all feel the same way. So when you learn to simply accept people as they are, you help feed their hunger. They crave acceptance, and all their lives they have been shunned by some, disapproved of, and it makes them feel somewhat hesitant to just be themselves around people for fear of being hurt. When they discover they can be around you and you accept them exactly as they are, it is like being welcomed into a warm home after wandering the snow-covered Siberian forest for days, frozen and hungry. This is not as much of an exaggeration as you might first think. We do not talk too much about the pain of disapproval because we fear more disapproval. But disapproval is painful. So people keep themselves hidden.
You can free people from their self-imposed prison by simply accepting them as they are. "Don't set rigid personal standards of how you think other people ought to act," says Giblin. "Give the other person the right to be himself. If he's a little peculiar, let him be. Don't insist that he do everything you do and like everything you like. Let him relax when he is around you."
Acceptance breeds acceptance. Intolerance breeds intolerance. So in a small way, your simple acceptance of people makes them more likely to accept others, and it can ease tensions between people to spread this soothing balm of acceptance and tolerance in the world.
If these three are food for the human hunger, acceptance is the appetizer, approval is the main course, and appreciation is dessert. Approval goes farther than acceptance. It is more active. When you accept something, you tolerate it. When you approve of something, you like it. And to find something you like in a person — besides the obvious things like looks or a melodious voice — you have to actively seek it. That is one of the ways of practicing people skills. How good are you at finding things about other people you approve of? Do you even look? That should be always one of the parameters you seek in any conversation: "What about this person can I heartily approve of?"
"You can always find something to approve of in the other person," says Giblin, "and you can always find something to disapprove of. It depends upon what you're looking for."
You don't have to find big things to approve of. People are so hungry for approval, they are satisfied with any approval they can get.
This again, goes further even than approval. Approval is about what you like. Appreciation, as the word implies, is about what you value. And it has mainly to do with what people do rather than what they are. You can be much more specific with appreciation and that's one of the things that makes this such a great thing — people can't dismiss what you say if you are specific enough and you're talking about tangible reality.
Appreciating people is a skill, which means you can get better at it. You'll find some things that work better than other. Some ways of communicating your appreciation will be brushed off. People are cynical. They are used to others faking their appreciation to get something out of them. A boss praises their good work in order to get the person to keep working hard. Salespeople praise a color choice to get the customer to buy. So it takes some skill and ability to get through to people and really get them to feel appreciated, but when you do, it can warm a person's heart for years, so rare is effective appreciation, and so hungry people are for it.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.