When the priest was moved to a new parish he approached he asked his superior to ask for permission, “Would you mind if I smoked while praying?” and was, not too surprisingly, turned down.

Some wise people instinctively know they can gain approval by how they ask. Set the stage for people to hear your positive intent. For example, the priest might have said, “Would you mind if I pray while I am smoking?”

Setting the context with your initial comments is akin to dressing in the fashion that the people you are going to be around will approve or even admire, while still being true to yourself.

Why? Because people like people who are like them. Like all other animals, we are most comfortable with those who look right -- like us. In fact, the more you look familiar to me, the earlier in the conversation I will literally hear your words, absorb their meaning and be more able to accept them, and you.

The more you look and act different than me, the more my peripheral vision narrows initially. Further my skin temperature will go down and my heart beat up in anticipation of the possible need for flight. That is because the primitive triune part of our brains has not changed. We are forever hardwired to respond to new, unfamiliar situations with the “fight or flight” syndrome.

Our vital signs literally shut down when we are first around a person, setting or situation that is radically different, unfamiliar thus initially potentially dangerous, until we have decided how we feel about our situation.

You can pull people closer, and bring out their better side so they can see and appreciate yours. In fact, this is probably the most meaningful gift you can give someone else, other than the present of your warm presence. Continuously praise others’ specific actions you admire, however small they may seem to you. People eventually warm up to your warmth.

Here’s two ways to praise to inspire happier, high-performing behavior in others and yourself..

One way is to praise someone directly.
Whatever you praise you will encourage to flourish.

The more specific your words, the more memorable your message.
Describe the actual act in as much rich detail so you honor the person in acknowledging how vividly it affected you.

The second and perhaps even more powerful way to praise is to compliment the person to one or more people who are very important to them. My client, the CFO of a Berlin-based maker of wireless portal equipment named Punjabi, has had a rugged and quite successful third year of operation where everyone has worked long hours. Instead of handing out the ten top team awards in the traditional way, at a company event, the CEO took the time to find a significant group related to each of the winners.

For those winners the groups included a place of worship, a rugby club, a college alumnae organization and an antique car association. With the permission of these organizations, the CEO arranged to give the award and an eight-minute speech, describing both the winner’s accomplishments at Punjabi and a specific incident where the winner exemplified the heroic character of a true team player.

Thus each (surprised) winner got to bask in the spotlight in front of valued people in her or his non-world world. The CEO’s greater effort also put his company in a genuinely positive light in many new places. Although it did not appear that any of the people who saw their friends receive the award were immediate, potential customers of Punjabi, they were sufficiently inspired to stir some positive word-of-mouth buzz about the awards ceremonies….

A month after these ceremonies a feature writer for the equivalent of the “lifestyle” section of the main Berlin paper heard the story through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was a rugby player with her husband. Not one to be interested in business stories, she was nevertheless touched by the way the ceremonies had rippled out to surround the winners’ lives. She tracked down the CEO and interviewed him, thus affording him another chance to speak glowingly about some of the specific examples of his winners’ dedication and ingenuity. As he praised each person, the glow of the values he admired reflected back on him and his company.

The reporter also interviewed the winners and several of the people at the organizations where the awards events occurred and then wrote a human interest story that appeared, with photos, in a Sunday edition. The article generated several glowing letters to the editor by people who witnessed the ceremonies, the winners and others who were also moved by the story.

Mr. John Sunui, a vice president of sales for Singapore-based construction management company happened to read some of the letters in the paper while eating his breakfast in a hotel while in Berlin on business. Sunui emailed the reporter to request a copy of the original article that the reporter emailed back the next day and he received when he returned to Singapore.

That December holiday in Singapore -- and 14 other countries where Sunui’s company has offices, both the office director and one person in each office who has done an outstanding job at their work, as voted by their co-workers, will be happily surprised when they walk in the door at some place that is special to them to be greeted by a company representative who will give them a present and tell a story about another side of the winner that their friends in that organization may not know about.

How can you give a lasting and perhaps the most widely-known gift that ten people you admire can receive? For each person think of the specific incident where that person has exemplified the quality that you most admire or cherish.

Re-play the situation in your mind so you can describe it in all its story-building, touching detail.

Practice saying the story, then notice how you now feel about the person.

Begin with the specific details before you end with the general statements that summarizes your feelings and values. That way, you make the story, and the person, more vividly memorable to all others who read or hear your story.

Next step: for each person envision what group to which they are affiliated (family, religious organization, hobby or other interest or professional group, etc.) would be most significant for that person if you were to praise them among the members.

You have several ways to pass along your praise about the person you love or admire. You may simply call, email or write to someone in their valued affinity group and share your story of praise. Or you may, like the people in the story above, ask for permission to confer a gift on the person at a gathering of their group.

In advertising this method is called a “third party endorsement.” For example, when customers praise a product in an advertisement they are providing a credible third party endorsement.

Because we are all instinctive voyeurs, naturally interested in the stories of each other’s lives we are more drawn to third party endorsements than to other kinds of advertisements.

Further, when we hear a positive story about someone, told by another person we do find it more credible and compelling than if the person was to “boast” about it in telling it himself.

Here are other ways to offer heartfelt, long-lasting third party endorsement gifts to those you hold dear during this upcoming, less certain holiday season:

• Donate money or another gift to a charity or cause in which that person is active, and ask that your story about them be included in any acknowledgement of the gift.

• Seek out places that person frequent and see if you might buy a needed piece of equipment or repair in that person’s name. In our Sausalito church you can buy a hymnal and dedicate it with a related phrase, to someone. So every Sunday, someone at my church opens up a hymnal with this caligraphied message on the inside front, dedicated to my mother who loves piano music, “To Lestelle whose piano playing washes away the dust of everyday life.”

• On an object which that person might use frequently (coffee mug, bath towel, key holder) imprint or monogram a positive nickname or one phrase characterization of the “hero’s” action. To my English rugby-playing friend, Richard, we’re giving a glass beer stein this holiday with these words etched on the bottom, “Great giver of bone-crushing hugs.”

• Make a large, colorful postcard where you use your computer to print a description of the positive incident involving your hero, then ask your colleagues who agree to join in signing it before sending it to that person’s home.

• Give a gift to the person’s partner in work or personal life, as an acknowledgement of your admiration.

• Make a banner or poster, with a celebratory sentence and an enlarged and flattering image of the hero and hang it in a prominent place (wall or door of the person’s office, home or event).

• Find a place the person frequents (dry cleaner, golf club) and offer the business manager at that site your credit card number with a set dollar limit. Ask the manager to pay the next bill of your hero, fax you a copy of the bill, and hand the manager a gift card with your inscription on it to be given to the hero at their next visit.

• You may think of a variation of this story. Two years ago I learned that Janice, a meeting planner who had hired me to speak at her association several times over the years, and who was exceptionally gracious and generous with me, had contracted leukemia and was not doing well. I learned this from her assistant who called to confirm some details of my next presentation at their annual conference.

On a long plane flight back from another speaking engagement, I looked out the window, thinking of Janice, and conjured up this idea for a third party endorsement of the Hawaiian-born meeting planner which would reflect one of her most passionate interests, gardening. I called the association’s executive director to share my idea and he immediately agreed.

Two months later, just after I was introduced to speak at that association’s convention’s opening breakfast, I moved to the center of the raised stage, signaling the 500 attendees to also rise from their seats as the board president caught the elbow of our surprised meeting planner, Jana, who at the bottom of the stage steps, still focused on making sure the room lighting would be alright for my speech.

He guided her up the steps as I stepped back to the side of the stage and the first person in the audience, roving mike in his hand told the first vignette of how Jana had guided him at the beginning of his career. As Jana reached the center of the stage, in front of the people she had served for 14 years, eight other people in various parts of the room lifted their mike and told their brief story about her.

Then a saxaphone player stepped out from the side of the stage to serenade Janice with a fragment of her favorite Kenny G song as the screen on the stage was filled with these purple words on an emerald green (her favorite colors) background, “Jana is a special flower” followed by a swift changing set of images of Janice in several situations.

As the song ended, on cue, all 500 people pulled from out of their pockets and purses the fragrant Hawaiian-grown white flowers, the gardenias, tuber roses and pikaki and held them aloft towards Jana. The board president handed Jana a bouquet of the flowers and asked Jana to speak, which she did, briefly, through her tears.

Even several of the hotel waiters standing still, crying by then. My speech had, of course, been moved to the luncheon so people could drop by Jana’s table to say hello through the ensuing breakfast.

Author's Bio: 

Kare Anderson is the co-founder of SavvyHer.com, an online social network that recognizes and rewards women (with gifts) for their tips for making life easier and more joyful. She is also CEO of the Say it Better Center LLC and publisher of the Say it Better e-newsletter, with 38,000 subscribers in 26 countries. Anderson's a speaker and Emmy-winning former NBC TV and Wall Street Journal reporter. She's the author of Getting What You Want, SmartPartnering, LikeABILITY, Beauty Inside Out, Resolving Conflict Sooner and Walk Your Talk: Grow Your Business Faster Through Successful Cross-Promotional Partnerships.