Today’s post is by Patricia Morgan, speaks and leads workshops on Solutions for Resilience. This is an adapted from her book, “From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work.”

We all crave to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Whether I say that to individuals, groups or large audiences, heads nod in the affirmative.

When I first began working in a counseling agency, I was thrilled with the supervision. My manager smiled, nodded and listened as I worked out my problems through non-stop, extroverted talking. As I exited from his office, I would turn, thank him for his time and he would respond with a generous laugh and a big “You’re most welcome.” I left notes of appreciation on his desk and the occasional homemade muffin.

I was surprised, therefore, when I learned that long-time employees felt frustrated by his lack of wise guidance. The lesson? Acknowledgement and a sense of gratitude improve working conditions whether it is sent or received by employees or management.

“Sawu Bona” is a South African greeting which literally means, “I see you.” Its deeper meaning is “because you are there, I exist,” that “without each other, we literally do not exist.” Imagine what your workplace would be like if this acknowledgment was genuinely sent and received on a daily basis.

Appreciation is a key ingredient for a thriving workplace, but one that is undervalued by many organizations. This is the conclusion from countless management experts and research projects. In “How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life,” Tom Rath and Donald Clifton said that the main reason most North Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. They also noted that 65% of Americans say they receive no recognition at work.

Appreciation has the biggest impact when it is given randomly. B.F. Skinner discovered that random reinforcement more strongly anchors behaviors than consistent reward. Consider how we view bosses who arrange a surprise on Administrative Assistants’ Day compared to a boss who for no reason acts with a gesture of appreciation. It’s similar to gestures of affection in intimate relationships. Compare the romantic scale of a single rose gifted on Valentine’s Day with one given on an ordinary day.

Here are 10 tips for building a culture of acknowledgment at your work.

  • Minimize negative words and phrases such as “can’t,” “but,” “no,” “never,” “always,” “should” and “impossible.”
  • Avoid saying “You are …” followed by “wrong,” “incompetent,” “at fault” or any other blame-throwing words.
  • Remind yourself that most of us are doing the best we can.
  • Listen first to discern what is going on for the other person.
  • Acknowledge feelings. Feelings are never right or wrong.
  • Acknowledge people’s best intentions. If you don’t know what they intended, assume that their intentions were to do no harm.
  • Note and comment on people’s accomplishments and strengths.
  • Act as if you are a cheerleader or a supportive coach.
  • Learn to watch and listen with a sense of gratitude.
  • Express appreciation.

Image credit, wakila, via iStock

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9 responses to “To appreciate, first acknowledge”

  1. ugg says:

    Can be blogengine as effective as wordpress blogs somehow? Need to be as it is often starting to be popluar recently.

  2. Skip Weisman says:

    Mary Ellen,
    great article and tips. I find in my work helping to improve communication in organizations and by leaders that so many people in today's workplace don't practice enough of what you suggest, and should.

    Presuming positive intent and that people want to do their best and are "doing the best with the resources they have available" makes a huge difference. We need to "give more benefit of the doubt," too.

    I think leaders and team members fail to subscribe to your points of acknowledgement and appreciation for fear of being seen as soft and not holding people accountable, yet the total opposite is true if people know how to do it properly.

    One of the things I've recently written about that may have value for people in organizations reading this is what I call "The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication," (available at " ) and it compliments what you wrote and has given me ideas to add to my list. Thanks, so much and keep up the good work.

  3. Peggy Romano says:

    Positivity is very reflective! It is such a simple behavior yet people overlook its tremendous benefits! Keep up the good work! A happy environment is a productive environment!

  4. Interesting post.We strongly advocate building a culture of recognition in organizations — similar to your approach. The steps to building one are simple — frequent, timely, authentic and specific appreciation that recognizes behaviors or actions that reflect company values in achievement of objectives. Then allow anyone to recognize anyone — peer to peer, manager to subordinate, lowly receptionist to CEO.

    But the real power of this lies in using your culture of recognition to manipulate the very social architecture of your organization. If you recognize based on behaviors that demonstrate your values and you carefully track and report on this activity (which should be extensive involving 80-90% annually or 5-8% weekly), you can begin to see patterns of areas where some values are rarely recognized. With this knowledge you can intervene to address why the recognition levels are low.

    Recognition can be a very powerful strategic tool if applied properly.

  5. Dawn Durrah says:

    I appreciate this article! It is very timely and shows that appreciation works both ways. "I see you." is so important. Some people in the workplace feel unseen and unheard. It is amazing that a simple "good morning" acknowledges that "I see you." An added smile says," I see you and I appreciate you."

  6. oscar marroquin says:

    i agree acknowledging and recognizing others is important and we need to do it frequently… this is a behavior that must be practiced daily… watch out … don't be pretentious, the consequences are greater than not acknowledging at all..

  7. Shamina says:

    The workplace environment would thrive if everyone worked together and recognize the contributions that each person has to offer. Each person comes together to make one whole unit.

  8. Thank you to Mary Ellen for printing my work and for the supportive and reinforcing comments by others. Thank you to Dawn for adding an important Number 11 to the list–smiling. A smile communicates more than "I see you." It sends the message, "I like you." Who wants to go to work if they are not at least liked?

  9. Appreciator says:

    "Acknowledge & Appreciate" was my rational choice for the "Theam of the Day". Like any human being I also expect to be acknowledged and appreciated and get disappointed or dejected for not recognized. So zeroed the topic on Acknowledge & Appreicate. While researching for the script I have seen your prose and found very much genuine. This comment is to Acknowledge & appreictae your effort.