At first glance, appreciation and acknowledgment look as though they are cut from the same cloth, but upon further analysis, we find profound differences and outcomes.
When you respond to an email, you have acknowledged the fact it showed up in your in box. Many times your response is simply a function of moving a business project forward or further communicating on a project. Stopping at someone's office to say "hello" as a common courtesy is a form of acknowledgment.
Taking the time to show appreciation makes the acknowledgement much more personal. True appreciation is recognizing and communicating someone's effort, character, and abilities.
Here are a few examples:
“I really appreciate the extra time you’ve been spending at work. You have been giving such an amazing effort. It has really boosted morale in the office."
“Your willingness to help out wherever there is a need is greatly appreciated. It’s that kind of flexibility and dedication that will help this company grow to its full potential.”
“Your attitude and work level have been incredible in your first few months here. You are one of the best hires we have made in the last ten years."
“I just wanted you to know what an inspirational leader you have been on this project. Your presence and work ethic are helping us reach our targets and goals.”
"Thank you for jumping in on the conference call with Acme Industries. Your input saved the day. We are so lucky to have you on our team."
It is human nature to respond positively to these moments of appreciation. When someone recognizes us for a meaningful contribution, special quality, or impactful effort, it not only makes us feel good, but reinforces that positive behavior.
Studies have shown that the same endorphin released through exercise is also produced in the person who gives a sincere and specific compliment. Both individuals involved in the "appreciation exchange" win. The recipient feels valued and both feel energized and connected. When people are engaged, the organization has energy, creativity, trust, and camaraderie. In this positive environment, productivity leads to profitability.
The sad reality is that most employees experience the exact opposite work environment. 65% of people in the workplace say they have received little or no appreciation during the past year. Most leadership books will also tell you 70% of people who leave their jobs site lack of appreciation as the number one reason, mainly due to their lack of positive interaction with a front line manager.
Lack of appreciation statistics follow us into our personal lives as well. What price do our relationships pay if we are not intentional about showing appreciation? How many divorces or broken friendships can be traced back to a lack of appreciation that resulted in a destructive outcome?
Given all of the benefits of appreciation, why are we not becoming experts in the "art of appreciation"?
For some, it is easy to "see it and say it." They have a nurturing eye and expressive nature. For others with more "personal filters" in place, you think about what you should say, but never risk saying it. High achievers can be so focused on a goal thats it's often not on their radar to take the time to show appreciation. For others it just comes down to the fact that they don't know what to say or how to say it.
I have a friend who has worked for the same company for ten years. Every year at Christmas his boss gives him a Starbucks gift card. My friend doesn't drink coffee. The effort is actually counterproductive.
So how do you create a thriving culture of appreciation in an organization as well as your own personal relationships?
A great starting point is to first take the time to understand what each person truly values.
Appreciations can be expressed in a variety of ways. Some of us enjoy hand-written notes or spoken words of appreciation, while others feel appreciated when you spend time with them or take the time to be involved in a cause they are passionate about. Some people feel appreciated by receiving well thought out personalized gifts. Others will appreciate that you care enough to offer to jump in and help on a project, while others will feel appreciated when you seek their advice on a project. For some, an expression of confidence after a mistake can communicate that the individual is of more value than the error, reinforcing their confidence and courage. Touch is a complicated issue but a high five or pat on the back in passing may give an individual a sense of belonging. Public recognition for some is a great way to show appreciation, while they are others that do not like that at all. Just realize not everybody wants a Starbuck's gift card.
Great coaches and leaders understand personalities, and how best to effectively communicate and motivate through appreciation. Taking the time and effort to understand their "love language" is the ultimate sign of how much you value them.
Another important step in developing a culture of appreciation is consistency. Don't wait until the end of the year Christmas party. One of the most effective things you can do organizationally is to set up systems and structures that allow people to be more appreciative. Some companies set up their own private Facebook page that allows employees to share segments of their lives with coworkers. Everyone is encouraged to spend time supporting and responding, thus creating a culture of care, concern and kindness. It may be that you set a company policy that every meeting ends with the opportunity for others to share a story of appreciation about someone in the meeting. Be intentional about sharing compliments from customers if you know that employee enjoys public praise. Some companies have gone so far as to buy software that allows comments and praise points to be given and shared among employees. The point is to find the specific ways each of your employees will feel the greatest and most personal forms of appreciation.
As leaders, remember that the culture of appreciation must be taught and then it will be caught.
Everyone wants to feel valued. They want to know that their efforts are making an impact and that they are an important of the team. When their their work and effort are recognized, motivation and productivity stay strong over time. It creates "positive momentum."
One important word of caution on this subject: The absence of appreciation is not neutral. As we stated previously, saying nothing leads most people to think that their work is not valued and ends in negative results and a destructive work environment.
The best analogy for this comparison, although a bit dramatic, would be heaven and hell. In Heaven we will be in the presence of our loving Father, in an environment of unending joy. Hell will be the extreme absence and exact opposite, filled with torment and no joy.
As leaders, made in the image of God, we have the ability within our limited humanness, to create as much of a heavenly environment as possible for not only our loved ones, but for our employees and co workers.
In order to help create the momentum needed to have an impactful year, we encourage you to be intentional about creating a team that encourages and honors the art of appreciation.
Proverbs encourages us to pay attention to what we say:
"A wise man's heart guides his mouth and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16: 23-24
Unfortunately the opposite is true as we are warned again from Proverbs:
"A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up bones." Proverbs 17:22
God also encourages us to make the right decision when he offers us these two options: "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." Deuteronomy 30:19
We have the chance to bless those in our lives by intentionally focusing on effective ways of showing appreciation. Let's go heal some bones this year!