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Being appreciated is fundamental to feeling engaged at work. Leaders continue to have challenges engaging their people, keeping them satisfied and performing at their best. Not enough time is spent at a fundamental human level, in letting people know that what they do matters, that they make a contribution that has value, and that they are worthy of being noticed. We spend too much time at work for these needs to go unmet, and for recognition of our contribution to go under-noticed. More appreciation is needed.

The expression of appreciation, if used well, and genuinely, can make a very big difference to people. Here’s a practical guide to making your appreciation even more powerful.

Why are we averse to giving appreciation?

There is almost an aversion to saying positive things about others. I commonly hear this: “You can expect to hear about it if there’s a problem.”  It makes sense that many of us are averse to the expression of conflict. It is negative, it can be difficult and uncomfortable, and perhaps we fear its potential to disrupt relationships.

It is more puzzling that there is a significant under-communication of positive admiration and appreciation towards others. What a paradox this is: feeling appreciated is something that is so fundamental, yet it is so hard to do.

If would like to increase your appreciation-giving, and ‘pump more oxygen into the system’, how might you go about it?

Step 1: Tune into actions that are worth appreciating

How do you tune in? You need to set aside your own busyness, be mindful, and pay to attention to others.

What you notice doesn’t have to be a huge event or even moderately life-changing. It might be a regular day-to-day occurrence that seems pretty insignificant, but it makes a small difference to how your hour or your day goes.

Step 2: Provide appreciation

Try this now: take 30 seconds to think about a recent experience you have of one of your coworker’s behaviour. Imagine that you are going to express your appreciation to this person in an upcoming conversation or meeting. Write down what you would say to them.

Once you’ve done that, evaluate what you’ve written:

How direct is it?

We commonly use indirect language. “I want to say a word of appreciation to John”. To increase the value of your appreciation speak directly to John: “I want to say a word of appreciation to you”.

How specific is it?

We are often general, rather than specific. We talk about how we felt, rather than what was done that caused us to feel great. For example, “you did a great presentation to the client yesterday. It is fantastic to be a part of the team with you.” The initial response will be to feel good. Yet, what did I do that was great? I might infer that what I did was due to something entirely different from what you noticed.

Being specific about why you thought the presentation was great, and clear about your own assumptions about what you like, is as valuable for the person you are appreciating as it is for you. Do you always, or only, appreciate it when someone completes their tasks before they are due, or when they contribute a new idea? What is the pattern to what you tend to notice and to appreciate?

How balanced are you? As a leader, you direct particular actions by your pattern of appreciation. Does your pattern mean that you over- or under-appreciate particular behaviours, or some people?

Is it non-attributive?

Appreciation that attributes value to certain personality characteristics tends to box the person in. And it is possible that we get our attributions wrong.

What could possibly be wrong with saying to someone: “You have such a great sense of humour”? Well, perhaps that person sees him or herself as having a great sense of humour, and perhaps they don’t. Perhaps they don’t want to be seen as the joker, and want to be taken seriously. In this moment, being told what I am, feels limiting. And if that’s repeated over time, the attribution can become unhelpful.

‘You’ statements tend to provoke a reaction, even defensiveness, whereas ‘I’ statements that focus on my own experience of your behaviour, don’t.  And this works as well for positive statements as it does for negative statements.

Appreciation that is about the experience of what you have done, rather than an attribution of what you are, has the greatest value. When I know how you experience what I do, I will feel most valued.

Step 3: Make it a habit

Make yourself a note to provide appreciation as often as you can, and do so.

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