The Gratitude Challenge

I recently had the opportunity to lead a series of communications workshops. Together we explored conflict styles, giving feedback, having difficult conversations, individual and organization-wide communication patterns and how to improve the teams’ ability to work together given the various styles and stressors of my clients’ workplaces. While the workshops were very well received, I realized that almost all of the philosophies and activities I designed and facilitated revolved around the concept of “I” statements (or as one of my colleagues calls it, “Staying on your side of the net”).

When giving feedback, “I statements”/”staying on your side of the net” is extremely important. Yet as I look at my client groups, I see a need for more “you” statements too. By “You Statements,” I mean expressions of meaningful recognition. Statements like, “You are doing a great job here;” “You are a pleasure to work with;” “You really went above and beyond there;” “You really shone in that meeting;” “Your perspective is important to hear;” and so on.

Unless you were raised by extremely attentive and loving parents, it is likely that you may not be skilled in giving meaningful recognition. Yet, this is a skill vital for all of us to master-- not just leaders who need to motivate their teams, but for colleagues and subordinates. A positive comment from a colleague can make someone’s day, an expression of gratitude from a leader can reinforce positive behaviors for months and an authentic expression of appreciation from staff to their boss can strengthen a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

Meaningful recognition is a pillar of high functioning teams.  But meaningful recognition is much more than that;  it is a basic human need, and one that often is neglected in our culture.

While I get hired to do “Team Building” offsites and retreats, what my clients really are requesting are communication skills workshops/trainings to support them in building open and honest relationships. We focus on crucial conversations, clear requests, negotiation, authentic listening, and the sort. Yet I am beginning to see that while these skills are vital for organizations to operate smoothly, there also needs to be an emphasis on developing our skills of communicating our gratitude and appreciation for others.

Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe, which is what frees us to do our best work. It’s also energizing. When our value feels at risk, as it so often does, that worry becomes preoccupying, which drains and diverts our energy from creating value…. We’re not fluent in the language of positive emotions in the workplace. We’re so unaccustomed to sharing them that we don’t feel comfortable doing so. Heartfelt appreciation is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build.” - Tony Schwartz

So here are three ways you can begin exercising your appreciation muscle:

  1. Start with yourself! - Write down what you appreciate about yourself; your contributions, gifts, actions and accomplishments. Make a list and watch it grow. Practice appreciating yourself in different settings - at home, in the mirror, in the store, at work, during dinner, etc.
  2. Focus on the positive – Yes, your colleagues are flawed. And they are also gifted. Try acknowledging their positive traits and accomplishments and pay attention to how their talents make your work-life better/smoother/more efficient. The more you focus on what others are doing that works well and acknowledge them for it, the more they will do just that. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated!
  3. Practice! - Practice stating your appreciations to your regular barista/waiter/bartender, to your niece and nephew, to your parents, to your partner, etc. Giving appreciation is an act of vulnerability, and this can be a challenge to bring into a work environment, especially since many work environments do not encourage vulnerability. So practice with your inner circle and in low-stakes situations. Build your appreciation muscle, and then when you are “in shape,” begin flexing those muscles in the workplace.

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Meaningfully and honestly recognizing others makes you feel better and those you acknowledge. It energizes and engages all parties. The human need for acknowledgement is profound yet profoundly unmet. Take the gratitude challenge and begin exercising this powerful muscle today!