The Power of Appreciation

AppreciationAppreciation is feeling that we truly matter, that we contribute to the greater whole and that someone genuinely cares about our contribution. It is a major driver of productivity and organizational growth. A culture of appreciation creates a workplace where people feel energized and inspired to do their best work.

However, leaders sometimes struggle with showing their appreciation, especially when they’re not feeling appreciated themselves. As described in Chapman and White’s “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” finding the right language of appreciation can help make even the smallest gestures meaningful.

Why is it important?

When we feel appreciated at work, we feel safe. We are free to do our best work. Appreciation creates a positive energy. But when we feel unappreciated, we feel unsafe at work. We become preoccupied, and our energy is diverted.

Scientific studies have shown, through brain scans, the enormous difference in brain functioning that occurs when people are thinking and feeling appreciation. These studies have shown there is increased blood flow from the cerebellum to various parts of the brain, when someone is experiencing appreciative thoughts and feelings.

Conversely, bad things happen when people don’t feel appreciated: workplace accidents increase, quality issues spike, people get sick more, are late more, and quit at a higher rate. None of that is good for business.

According to a Gallup study, 70% of employees in America are not engaged or are actively disengaged, meaning that they are merely present at work or are miserable, spreading discontent among their colleagues. Feeling appreciated is a large part of being engaged at work.

If it’s so important, why do we suck at it?

Appreciation requires a personal connection, and to many of us, it can feel like a foreign language. In an office environment, appreciating someone can feel inauthentic or contrived. We aren’t comfortable with the language of appreciation.

As Chapman and White describe in their book, the language of appreciation is understanding how you and those around you are best motivated and encouraged. People are motivated by hearing words of affirmation, receiving help on a task, getting a firm handshake, or spending quality time with their supervisor. Some people may also be motivated by financial rewards or tangible gifts, although this type of appreciation has minimal impact. Most people are motivated by a combination of two styles.

Knowing the appreciation style of those around you helps you become a more effective communicator and increases the impact of your actions. Don’t try to hammer your preferred style on someone whose style is different from yours. Your efforts will fall flat and can leave the employee feeling unappreciated.

The Habits of Appreciation.

The most important thing is to get into the habit of using appreciative language and knowing what form of appreciation to use. Start by appreciating yourself. At the end of each day, think about the things that make you feel the most proud. Then make it a priority to notice the positive qualities and actions of those around you. Be specific in your appreciation. Appreciation is most effective when it is individualized and personal. Keep a box of note cards in your desk—handwritten notes have a greater impact than an email or a passing comment. Make a goal of sending out one note a day. Appreciation should be dispensed regularly and often.

What if you really don’t appreciate someone?

Appreciation is ineffective if it’s disingenuous. Don’t waste your effort on appreciation during times of tension; rather reflect on the root of the issue. Is there unresolved conflict? Is the person’s performance lagging? Is it a personality clash? Then set out to resolve the issue.

If there is a conflict, apologize face-to-face for your part in the conflict. Have a meaningful conversation and engage the person in a genuine discussion about how you can work together more effectively going forward. Once that is in effect, begin to express your appreciation for their work.

If you are the person’s supervisor, make sure your expectations are clear and that you hold him or her accountable. If the person’s performance is still lagging, you may need to consider moving the person out of the position.

Sometimes, personalities clash. But even in the most extreme of personality clashes, we can find things to appreciate about an individual if we look beyond the characteristics that bug us. You need to make every effort to view the person in a more positive light.

Once the issues are resolved, begin to show your appreciation in the language that has the most meaning to that person.

We’d love to hear from you and your own story about when you felt appreciated at work.