4 Ways to Acknowledge Others
Yesterday my client, Steve, asked for guidance to personalize the annual performance reviews for his five direct reports. He thinks the corporate process is sterile and wants to get across how much he values each person on his team.
Many executives dread giving and receiving performance reviews. (A great book to consult on how to approach this is “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.)
One way to upgrade the interaction is to offer genuine acknowledgement, which diminishes the anxiety that often arises in these conversations. Yes, ‘constructive feedback’ is inherent to this process and often necessary. Acknowledgement is one element of relational dialogue that is most often overlooked.
Annual reviews mark the end of a work phase or milestone (another year in the salt mine). They also hold the possibility for clearing the air and making new agreements. They are a chance to bring Honorable Closure to the one-year cycle, cultivate gratitude, resolve any regrets, and foster trust and collaboration. That’s good business.
Steve and I discussed the four ways we can acknowledge others. You can use this guide inside and outside the corporate setting, whenever you want to connect with a person and recognize how they contribute to you.
Use the list below as a guideline.
Begin by sitting quietly and ground yourself. See this person with your mind’s eye, holding them in high regard as their best friend or spouse might see them. Remember what all people have in common: they want to be happy, loved, valued, and feel connected, just like you.
1) Appearance and well being – The most common type of acknowledgment, this can feel the most obligatory or superficial. It happens often in social situations, as we compliment someone’s outfit, level of physical vitality, or overall design aesthetic.
2) A skill or talent you admire – As you reflect on the way this person moves through their day, what skills and talents do you see? Consider skills even if they are not an integral part of their job. What interests do they have outside the office that you admire? Is this person a concise and articulate communicator? Good at systems thinking? Clever? Resourceful? Can you think of a story that demonstrates this talent? Do they have a knack for resolving conflict without avoiding it? Do they speak other languages?
3) A quality you wish to emulate – When you interact with this person, what quality comes forward that you admire? Are they patient, eternally optimistic, resilient? Steve has a peripatetic personality, and he admires the grounded sense of calm he feels when he’s in meetings with his marketing director. “Have you ever told her that?” I asked. He had not. It seemed so obvious to him. Performance reviews give us this chance.
4) How has this person touched your life? – Have you learned how to laugh at yourself by working with this person? Has their presence made a difficult assignment bearable? Are you more tolerant or curious thanks to their influence?
People generally give the type of acknowledgments they most like to receive. So, pay attention to what the person affirms in others. Granted, if there is strife or conflict, you will have to look long and hard for something to appreciate in another.
Steve is lucky. He likes everyone on his team. Together we came up with a preliminary list. (All of the names here have been changed to protect me.)
- Amy – unflappable in the face of setbacks or bad news, resilient. Steve especially appreciates this because Amy assumed care of her aging parents in the past year.
- Ron – always up-to-the-minute on industry matters, great sense of humor without ever being offensive which is why everyone wants Ron at their table during company functions. Steve admires that he runs the New York City Marathon every year keeping himself in good shape despite the many hours he works.
- Louis – strikes the perfect balance between friendship and over-familiarity with clients and co-workers. He’s a talented deductive reasoner. Steve admires his knowledge of literature and the arts. He’s always going to the opera and theatre and understands that world in a way Steve does not.
- Susan – probably the smartest and most accomplished person on the team. (She has several patents to her credit). You can sense her inner strength; she is always unassuming and self-assured. In private she’s a straight talker. She once came into Steve’s office and took issue with something he said in a team meeting that wasn’t entirely accurate. That day her stock went up in Steve’s book. She was very tactful in how she approached him. She was right and it took courage.
Over the next week, Steve will reflect on each person individually and select one or two ways to acknowledge each team member. “This might feel awkward at first, but it is a skill that can be developed with practice,” I tell Steve. I predict it will go well for him and he will see it is well worth the time and forethought.
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