Starved for Appreciation

I showed appreciation for someone and he cried. As I told him about the qualities that make him a valued part of the team, he welled up. As I moved on to discuss acts and products that he contributed to our program, the tears spilled out. He didn’t ask me to stop but sat for more as the tears continued.

He had been trying to hide his frustration with work under the guise of being a “team player.” He thought he could act his way to positivity while silencing his observations of problems and suggestions for improvements. He saw his desire for fewer unnecessary crises and last minute changes, time with his family, and appreciation for his commitment, effort, and productivity as character flaws! When he voiced disappointment he apologized for being “negative.”

Despite his belief in the organization’s purpose, his love of the people he was serving and his own work, he was losing energy. He was just going along, withholding his suggestions, and even seeing ways to add negatively. He thought of limiting his effort to the narrowest reading of his responsibilities. He might see trouble brewing and do nothing to stop it, convinced of the futility of his effort. He felt disrespected, unappreciated, even abused. But saying so would risk revealing a need considered traitorous—the need for appreciation.

There is nothing more powerful than being valued by one’s colleagues and managers. Not vague “great job” or group celebrations, nice though they may be, but a clear telling of the person’s special skills, attributes, and impact on the work, group, organization, program, or results. People want to make a difference and are happier and more effective if given positive reinforcement. Simple statements, given freely and genuinely, go a long way.

·        “The attention to detail you bring means we run a much tighter program than we did without you.”

·        “You approach people with such care and respect that they give you their best effort.”

·        “Your passion and optimism kept me going when I was down.”

This fellow was so starved for appreciation that a couple of sentences like the ones above had him in tears. He’s not alone. Often, people have no idea of their impact or that anyone notices them. In most organizations, there is more task than time. Appreciation may seem like frivolous “touchy-feely” stuff or maybe it never even occurred as a possibility.

Beyond having individual feel good, the organizational impact of appreciation is, well, underappreciated. When people hear that they make a clear contribution, that they are seen as individuals with unique and needed talents and attributes, they shine. Their energy is unleashed and directed at positive results for themselves and the organization. This is true even/especially when the cause should be its own reward.

·        What are your reactions to the person in this story? Do you identify with him? Are you impatient with him?

·        How do you appreciate the people you work with in ways that matter to them?

·        How do you respond to appreciation? How do others?