How to Make Someone’s Heart Sing

The reason the movie It’s a Wonderful Life plays on endless repeat over the holidays (and we still cry at the end) is because it taps into a universal human longing.

We want to know that we matter. 

We want to know that the way we’re spending our time (at work, at home, in the community) actually counts for something, and that someone notices.

If you want to someone’s heart sing, go beyond the standard compliments (good, wonderful, pretty, accurate, etc.) and instead, tell them how they made a difference.

Humans need more than just an assessment of our work; we’re hardwired to want to know our impact. Once we get beyond food and shelter, human beings have two fundamental needs: Belonging and Significance. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves AND we want to know that our contribution matters

When you tell someone “Great job!” the glow rarely lasts. When we face the next task, it’s forgotten. But when you tell someone, “Your work really made a difference to me” (or our team, our customers, the world), you light up the part of their brain that craves meaning. It fills them with a pride that is much longer lasting than a short term ‘great job.’

You might be thinking, but I want my employees (or my kids, or my spouse) to always be striving. If I fill them with too much pride, they’re rest on their laurels. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who know they matter have a greater sense of agency, and they accomplish more. Case in point, think about soldiers or firefighters or emergency room staff. Do you want them running into danger thinking, I really hope I can do this? Or would you prefer to be assisted by someone who thinks, I’m a person who makes a difference, I can do this!”?

When you describe the impact of someone’s work, they hear, “You matter, you have inherent value in this world.” It’s like magic for us, and it propels us to accomplish even more.

When you tell someone that their voice, their presence, their work, or their ideas made a difference, it’s like magic. For them and for you. Whether it’s your boss, your employee, your customer, your spouse, your parent, your child or your UPS driver, we all need to know that our lives and work matter.

Here’s what I know to be true about this practice.

  1. You don’t have to wait until the other person does everything perfectly to tell them one part made a difference.
  2. The joy they feel will come back to you.
  3. It only takes 30 seconds.

And as my friend and colleague George pointed out this morning, it’s also free. I hope during this coming week, you’ll take the time to let someone know, they made a difference.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you peace and grace.