Have you ever kept a card or email from a colleague or mentor simply because their expressed appreciation for you or something you did felt so good to read? I have a kudos file on my computer for that category of emails and a folder for cards and letters I’ve received over the years. Those acknowledgments are like a balm to my spirit when I’m having a tough week and want to remember the difference I’m making in the world.
There is an art to acknowledgment. It is deeper than a mere compliment, like when we admire someone’s tie or new haircut. The kind of reflection I’m referring to has the power to change the way a person sees themselves and even the way a team interacts. When it is done openly, in front of peers, you can feel the shift in energy. We’ve all felt that, right—when we walk into a room where there has been an argument and even though the people have left, we feel the heaviness in the space itself? We can also feel positive energy emerging in the space between us as we authentically connect. Our words carry the power to heal or to hurt, to build up or to tear down.
We understand in many arenas that, if we choose to reinforce something, we will multiply it. We use positive affirmations to reinforce the good in our individual lives. When we decide to look for what is right about each other, and acknowledge that, it has a ripple effect in the way an entire team sees each other and themselves. When they begin to make it a habit, they see everyone differently. They begin to look for ways all the people in their lives make a positive impact. This changes the esteem in life partners and children and all relationships. When we feel good about who we are and the impact we make, life just seems more worthwhile.
I’ve seen firsthand how it moves through an organization and shifts the focus away from blaming, which can create a toxic environment and kill enthusiasm and engagement quickly— like a wildfire. True, heartfelt acknowledgment also builds greater trust, deepens connections, and unleashes higher performance and interdependence.
In my partnership with People Acuity™, a company that uses a strengths approach to creating higher performance and engagement, we learn about two parts to deep acknowledgment: what I notice about you and the impact that has on me and the team. As you read through the following examples, imagine you are the recipient of such an expression of appreciation and notice how it feels:
- Jack, I notice that you invite the input of every member of our team when we are discussing ideas, and you make it easy for the quieter ones to share their thoughts. The impact of that is that everyone knows you are interested in our ideas, our thoughts. It makes all of us want to play a bigger part in our success.
- Samantha, I notice that you have a way of interjecting humor in our discussions just when things start to get heavy. I value that so much—the impact is that we all can step back and laugh at ourselves for getting so serious.
- Elizabeth, thank you for providing the structure for tackling this complicated issue. I notice that you have a way of presenting data that makes it all manageable and keeps us focused on one step at a time. The impact is that we don’t get lost in all those details and it helps us move forward into action effectively.
In Alex Linley’s Average to A+: Realising the Strengths in Yourself and Others, he talks about developing the skill of strengths spotting—honing your eye for noticing the talents and strengths of those around you. I believe that is a good first step, and to truly make a positive impact, it isn’t enough to simply notice. If we want to lift each other to greater heights of esteem, confidence and performance, we acknowledge openly how people are having a positive impact on us and our team or organization.
The argument I can anticipate from some is that if we don’t equally share where folks are missing the mark, how will they course correct? Yes, absolutely we also share that. However, psychologists suggest that we have a 7:1 ratio of positive comments to complaints lest we damage the relationship and confidence of the one we are pointing our opinion toward. Relationships are crucial to all performance and must be held as our most valuable asset. Nothing gets accomplished without healthy, collaborative relationships. As individuals, we are terribly hard on ourselves internally, so we over-emphasize our mistakes.
When we begin to retrain our own focus on what is right with ourselves and each other, we will be reinforcing those strengths, characteristics and qualities, and they become more and more available to all of us. It might feel awkward at first, but if you commit to acknowledging at least one person a week, it gets easier. You develop your art and the payoffs are exponential.