Maybe you’ve read some leadership books or maybe you just know, but one of the best ways to get people to work is to make them feel like their work is appreciated and valuable. I became aware of the power of appreciation during my first job post-college. My boss there was a master at showing appreciation and because of that no matter how tedious the task she asked me to do was, I always did it enthusiastically.
In the States, some people naturally thank others for their work and are good at handing out compliments and some people aren’t. In Paraguay, providing positive feedback all the time it’s less of a personal trait and more of a cultural trait.
First of all, there’s the term “guapo” which you must dish in extravagant portions: You call people guapo if they are sweeping, washing clothes, cooking, walking, visiting you…seriously you can and do call people guapo as long as they aren’t sleeping.
Second, there’s a custom of giving visitors or anyone who helps you food and terere. It doesn’t matter if you are paying a team to build your house, you’ll still make them lunch and maybe pass around a couple of beers at the end of the day. On a smaller scale, when people are drinking terere, they’ll always invite you to join. And while this sharing culture is very indirect, it makes you feel included and liked, which is the first step to appreciating and valuing your work.
Third, Paraguayans offer commentary on anything—sometimes this is annoying because if involves telling you that you gained weight or asking how much something cost—often this manifests itself as a compliment, especially when it comes to food. There’s no such thing as food that isn’t yummy when you’re talking to the cook. It is also common and important to tell people their outfit, or their house, or something they possess is nice.
And finally, Paraguayans are intuitive about your needs. For example, I am teaching an English class during these summer months. For this class I give out a lot of homework and quizzes. A mother of several of my students noticed the worksheets her daughters brought home and thought that I probably was using a lot of paper. She knows paper has its cost and is a former teacher so she has a ton of paper she’s not using anymore. She went out of her way to stop by my house and give me the paper so I could use it. She explained that she’s very grateful that I’m teaching English and that she figured I’d need the paper.
Summary: Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m living in the real world or a bubble. If it weren’t for periodic, multi-hour battles with cockroaches I’d be convinced that life in my site is a dream. My community has a knack for motivating me and makes me feel justified in doing hours of prep-work for whatever I’m teaching that week. It doesn’t take much, but a little appreciation goes a long way.