December 3, 2022 / Esther Choy

Colleagues appreciate the contributions of a team memberThe Thanksgiving holiday gives us a taste of what it’s like to take a moment to reflect and share about what we are grateful for. But even though turkey leftovers are wrapped up in the fridge and the travel is behind us, the gratitude and taking the time to show appreciation to those around us shouldn’t be over. When we return from the holidays, we need to show appreciation in the workplace as well.

A leader who shows appreciation will have a happier and more motivated workplace. According to a 2021 survey of 1,500 working Americans, “82% consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work.” But the art of acknowledgement goes even deeper than that.

Most companies give formal recognition based on tenure. On 5, 10, 20 year work anniversaries, an employee receives some kind of gift. These can be formulaic and robotic, lacking the timeliness and authenticity that appreciation in the workplace should have. They miss day-to-day relationships within the organization. Failing to acknowledge everyday contributions of your team is a misstep. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, has said that, “To feel valued (and valuable) is almost as compelling a need as food.”

Taking the time to appreciate your team will improve team dynamics, help resolve conflict, and grow relational networks.

Appreciation is the of lifeblood of conflict resolution

Acknowledging another person’s point of view is like stabilizing a patient in an emergency room. Before you do any kind of  life-saving surgeries, you must stabilize the patient.

To resolve any kind of conflict, in or out of the workplace, you must start with acknowledgement. When you acknowledge someone, you don’t have to agree with them, but they need to hear you acknowledge their point of view and experience.

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Acknowledgement is not just saying “I hear you,” it’s making a meaningful statement or demonstration to show you understand their experience. One way to show you understand and appreciate your colleague’s point of view is to repeat their opinions verbatim: “I hear you telling me that Mike slows projects down, so you don’t want him to be in charge of getting the focus group together.”

Appreciation Doesn’t Take The Status Quo For Granted

To retain and maintain good relationships with employees and colleagues, you must acknowledge the contributions they bring. It’s so easy to take the status quo for granted and not show appreciation in the workplace. When everything is going well, the wheels are turning, it’s easy to pay more attention to the relationships or areas of business that are struggling. But even good relationships need maintenance.

When you are looking to acknowledge your team you can think about it on two tracks: contributions and efforts. It’s that simple. When you see someone making a contribution to the quarterly report, say it out loud. When you see someone making an effort, show them that you see their undertaking. You don’t need to attach a judgment on the quality of contribution or effort, just noticing and acknowledging the work done goes a long way in helping people feel valued and understood.

Sir Richard Branson said: “As a leader of people, you must be a great listener and a great motivator. People are no different than flowers. When you water flowers, they flourish. If you praise people, they flourish. And this is a critical attribute of a leader.” Bronson highlights here the importance of paying attention — of listening. In order to acknowledge your team, you must be paying attention to their contributions and efforts.

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This kind of paying attention is closely tied to having an “active practice of gratitude,” which, according to the neuroscience of gratitude “increases neuron density and leads to higher emotional intelligence.” It’s not only good for team health, it’s good for leaders as well. The effect of paying attention and appreciating your team’s efforts will have a ripple effect throughout your day.

Appreciation Is The Key To Networking

When you get a pitch emailed to you or someone reaches out over LinkedIn, how likely are you to return the call or message? Unless you accept all pitches indiscriminately, how do you decide which one to pay attention to? Sure, timing and relevance and intrigue plays a role. But all else being equal, the ones we do pay attention to tend to be the ones that acknowledge the work we do. They recognize something we’ve said or accomplished and show how it’s impacted them.

This kind of acknowledgement, from someone who is not yet a colleague, allows you to see the person who is reaching you more clearly. It’s humanizing.

People often complain that LinkedIn and Indeed.com is all about keywords and algorithms, but human connection is possible through digital platforms with acknowledgement.

3x Emmy-winning brand storyteller and documentary filmmaker Bryce McNabb describes this kind of human connection in his outreach style.

“I didn’t want to be seen trying to get something from you, cause you can totally feel that. So I didn’t force it. I made a point to only ever comment if I genuinely had something thoughtful to contribute,” said McNabb. Learn more about McNabb’s authenticity-based outreach strategy. 

Demonstrating appreciation in the workplace is a game changer. Appreciating your audience’s point of view is the key to maintaining, retaining, and opening the door to a collaborative relationship. Acknowledgement, like leadership storytelling, requires you to pay attention and understand what is important to your audience. Whether your audience is a person you are in conflict with, your amazing colleague or someone you’d like to connect with, when you understand their perspective you will be able to authentically appreciate their efforts.

Who is someone you need to acknowledge today?

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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