How to Practice the Art of Acknowledgement

One of my clients said of her boss, “Just once, I’d like to hear her tell me what’s good about my work, instead of pointing out everything I didn’t do.”

Sound familiar? Which brain cell warped making it so much easier to notice – and talk about– the bad stuff, while ignoring all the good that surrounds us? The fascinating thing about my client’s comment is that her boss has told me she thinks this person’s work is great!

So why do I know this – and the person involved doesn’t?

Welcome to the art of acknowledgment. Like much art in our society, this art is at high risk of not being taught, practiced, and valued in our criticize-’em-now culture. That has to change.

Acknowledgment is one of the secret ingredients to motivating human behavior. I think its lack is one reason our lives become lackluster. Since we need everything we do to shine more than ever, it’s time to relearn and practice this simple skill.

But how? Here are three ideas how you can fill your canvas at work and home with the art of acknowledgment:

1. Paint the Picture of What You See.

Sometimes we struggle to acknowledge others because the goal isn’t complete or isn’t yet successful. We wait to celebrate until there are results—the project delivered, the weight lost, the problem solved.

Pflooey. It’s the right effort that gets the right results. Painting the picture for someone else of the steps you’re watching them take toward a goal can be very powerful and affirming – even if the ultimate goal hasn’t been met yet. For example, when I was working on my book, Bring Your Superpowers to Work, it was wonderful to hear from friends and colleagues things like “I’m so proud of you for continuing to write and not giving up!” Unfortunately, even the most well intended asked the more common “When exactly will you be getting that done?” (That wasn’t very helpful or uplifting!)

You can be different. You can teach yourself to notice—and call attention to—the positive efforts going on every day. What are all the little things that are happening that add up to big improvements? What choices, decisions, and actions are taking place all the time that in the long run make a difference?

Once you notice those efforts, it’s time to mirror them back. Here are some examples:

  • “Hey Tom, I noticed you spent extra time with the new hire as we started on our project. That was really smart – nobody else thought of that. I’m sure it was helpful to him, too, and I just wanted you to know I noticed.”
  • “Sandy, I wanted to thank you for always bringing a fun, positive attitude to the community association. The work gets hard sometime and I noticed that you never stop smiling, and I really appreciate it!”
  • “Mom, we may disagree sometimes, but you need to know that I see how you always have my best interest at heart. No matter what our differences, I’m grateful that you are supporting me that way.”

What do you see someone else doing that could be acknowledged? Paint the picture for them so they can see it, too.

 2. Create a Space for Appreciation

Contrary to what the wrinkle-cream ads want us to think, time is actually our friend. We all are given the same amount each day, and we have the ability to choose what we do with it.

An easy choice is to create a space in your next meeting, conversation, or interaction to recognize someone, to express appreciation, or to acknowledge a kindness.

Think you don’t have enough time to create space for appreciation? Well, how long does it take to say:

  • “Before we launch into today’s agenda, I wanted to thank the tech team for all they did to help us move ahead on this project. Really appreciate all you did, Alice, Randy, and Taj. Now to our first agenda item. . .”
  • “Honey, before we get started paying this month’s bills, I just want to say how proud I am of us that we’ve been able to reduce our credit card debt so much this year. Yea us!”

3. Just Say Thank You (Really)

For some people, the words “thank you” have become a little like “have a nice day” – empty of any true meaning or sincerity. In fact, one client told me that when his boss said “thank you,” he means “you can go now.” Ouch.

That doesn’t have to be you. You can try a different tack. The next time you are ready to say “thank you” to someone, look him or her in the eyes and say the words “Thank you.”

Then, while still looking at them, say to yourself, “Really.” Really.

Why does this work? The pause it takes you to think “really” creates a beat, a moment. That moment keeps you present and aware of what you are expressing. It also creates a moment for the thanked person to soak it in – and believe what you say.

Of course, if you really want your words to count, make them more permanent and jot a note. The thank-you note is not passé! Buy an inexpensive set of note cards at your local drugstore and take 90 seconds to write to someone you appreciate – even if you see them every day. Unlike email, physical notes still get read, saved, and remembered. After all, like acknowledgment itself, it’s an art.

Darcy Eikenberg, ACC, is the author of Bring Your Superpowers to Work: Your Guide to More Clarity, Confidence & Control, and a popular workplace coach and speaker. You can download a free chapter of her book, get her twice-monthly Community News, and access more free tips and tools on Darcy’s career and success site

Photo credit: ‘Bulletin Board with Thank You‘ from Big Stock