One of the most empowering and inexpensive gifts you can offer someone is that of sincere appreciation. I experienced the power of this when undergoing life coaching training with the Coaches Institute during my time at IBM. And since then, I have made it a habit to practise giving this precious gift to others often.

About nine months ago, after a workshop, I found myself in a food court in Singapore. Exhausted but fulfilled, I felt incredibly blessed for the quiet moment alone doing one of my favourite things in Singapore – sampling the “hawker” fare which reminded me so much of my growing up in Malaysia. Simple, tasty and inexpensive eating.

One of the more positive habits I’ve formed is that of saying a quiet word of thanks before every meal. Focusing on the question “what’s going great in my life right now?” helps put me in the present and reminds me of the many blessings in my life.

As I looked around me, my gaze settled on a middle-aged lady wearing a plastic apron. She was pushing a cart with a garbage bag diligently wiping down the tables. She seemed in “auto-pilot” mode and did her job without fuss, quietly diligent and thorough. The result was one spotless table after another.

Soon, she approached my table. As our eyes locked, I spied her name tag and greeted her. She pulled back startled and hesitantly asked in Mandarin “Do I know you?” In my sparse Mandarin, I replied that I was pretty sure we hadn’t met, and that was my first visit to that particular food court. My response only alarmed her and she asked “is anything wrong?”

Interesting reaction, I thought. Why does one have to assume that when greeted by a stranger in those circumstances, that something “had” to be wrong? We have, I feel developed such a cynical society and unfortunately, one where far too often, the only feedback we receive is often negative.

I said “No. Nothing’s wrong. In fact, quite the opposite! I was just sitting here appreciating the wonderful, spotless environment I was in. People say Singapore is a clean, organised, city and they love coming here for that. I think Singapore is so lucky to have wonderful citizens like you doing what you do everyday! You are a tremendous credit to your country.”

She seemed in a mild shock and was lost for words for a moment. Her eyes belied her thoughts “This is one very unusual bloke. What does he want from me????” I simply thanked her and enjoyed my meal. As she walked away, pushing her cart, I saw her casting furtive, bemused glances at me every so often, as if to find an answer to the question “I must have met this guy before. But where???”

Finishing my meal and about to leave she came by my table again. She said “Sir, I am not good at expressing myself. I just want to thank you for what you said. In the ten years I’ve worked here, no one has stopped to say thank you once.”

My spirits soaring, I left the food court, feeling like the richest man on the planet. It is so true that when you give of yourself unconditionally, you get so much more back. And what did that cost me? Nothing but the small risk of being thought of as an idiot. I sense that that lady might have formed a very different perspective of her role that day. Instead of being “a cleaner” someone had acknowledged her as an “ambassador for her country”. How might you think this might make her feel about her occupation? Might this greater purpose cause her to take on the task differently, perhaps with even more vim and vigour?

Who can you offer a gift of sincere, unexpected appreciation today, without expecting anything back?

Imagine if this were a habit in companies, where staff habitually did this for someone else, not necessarily part of the team – what might this do for the culture?

Imagine if this were the habit of the citizens of a family, community, country, might we live in a world far less cynical, more empowered?

Wishing you joy today. Take a chance – give someone the joy of an unexpected, sincere and specific compliment and make both your day and theirs special.

To your Success,