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A Simple but Powerful Way You Can Change People’s Lives

One night, around four years ago, I was having a long phone conversation with a friend of mine.

I don’t exactly remember what we talked about that night except for a comment she made that I’ll never forget.

She said that I would make a good writer!

This took me completely by surprise because even though we had gone to school together, she had never seen anything I had written. I also never used to write anything back then, except for ramblings in my journal— which, as far as I knew, wasn’t seen by anyone else.

But more than anything, I was amused by what she said because I’d never felt that I had any skill for writing.

More than a year later, when I became the secretary of a small club, I had to prepare the minutes of the meeting (a written account of the events of every meeting) weekly.

My father used to go through them and say that I have a knack for writing, but I never thought much about it at the time because I felt whatever I wrote was quite plain and ordinary.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, I received three signs from the universe to start blogging.

When I was setting up my blog, articulating my thoughts into words were a struggle. It took embarrassingly long to finish writing a single article, and it was downright hard to write anything that I considered good.

During this period, the comments made by my friend and father years ago would come to my mind, and it was tremendously encouraging, and I chose to believe in what they saw in me.

Since I’ve started blogging over the last year and a half, many people have complimented my writing, but I believe some credit should go to my friend and my father, who saw a talent in me that I never knew I had.

I could quote many instances from my life similar to this one where I have been able to do something that I thought I wasn’t capable of simply because someone else believed in me.

Other people’s expectations and beliefs about us can have a tremendous influence for better or worse on how we think, act, and our capabilities (and vice versa).

In fact, psychologists have coined a specific term for this and call it The Pygmalion Effect.

The Pygmalion effect

To quote the blog Farnam Street “The Pygmalion effect suggests our reality can be manipulated by others—on purpose or by accident. What we achieve, how we think, how we act, and how we perceive our capabilities can be influenced by the expectations (and beliefs) of those around us.”

The Pygmalion effect, a theory initially developed by psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, demonstrated that a teacher’s expectations could influence student performance. Positive expectations could impact performance positively, and negative expectations could affect performance negatively.

Apple-cofounder, Steve Jobs was someone who applied the Pygmalion effect to achieve great success in the business world.

During his time at Apple, Jobs would repeatedly expect his employees to do work they considered impossible. He would persuade them with such conviction and charisma that they somehow believed in him and were able to achieve the 'impossible'.

In the book Pygmalion in Management, Sterling Livingston describes the powerful impact this psychological phenomenon can have on employee performance.

“Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most…unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving.

The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If manager’s expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor. It is as though there were a law that caused subordinates’ performance to rise or fall to meet managers’ expectations.”

Final thoughts

When we think of positively changing people’s lives, we may usually believe that we may need to do something extraordinary.

But sometimes, simple things like noticing the good qualities in people, genuinely appreciating them and believing in them can go a long way in transforming people’s lives.

Thomas Alva Edison, the renowned inventor and businessman, was a poor student in school. A teacher called Edison "addled"(unable to think), which infuriated his mother, who took him out of school and decided to homeschool him.

Decades later Edison would say, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

So today I’d like you to consider something.

If you are a business owner strive to focus on the positives of your employees and compliment them. If you are a parent or a teacher, instill your children and students with the belief that they are smart individuals, capable of doing great things.

Let the people in your life know about the qualities that you genuinely appreciate in them. You may even surprise them by doing this because they may have never noticed such qualities in themselves.

Sometimes mere words can have such a powerful impact that people may remember what you say for the rest of their lives. So use that power wisely to create a positive impact on other people’s lives.


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