Forms of Appreciation: The Language of On-Going Regard

by Tara Rodden Robinson on February 14, 2012

in Recognition,Reflection,Resources,Strengths

I want to be a robin! #1

On my first day as a new employee here at Cascade, I went through orientation.

“This is our appreciation station,” my preceptor said. I gazed at the colorful bulletin board and admired all the notes of thanks or recognition. “And these are our “Forms of Recognition.” She pointed to a three-ring binder where each person had listed his or hers favorite treats or ways of being rewarded. “I’ll send you a blank one to fill out.”

When I got my form, I tried to fill it out but something didn’t feel quite right. Then when I got an email from one of my podcast listeners, I suddenly realized what I wanted to put on my form–how I want to be recognized when someone appreciates me or the job I’ve done.

“We all do better at work,” write Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, “if we regularly have the experience that what we do matters, that it is valuable, and that our presence makes a difference to others.” In their book, Seven Languages for Transformation: How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, Kegan and Lahey present the process of expressing what they refer to as “on-going positive regard.” It works like this.

Direct. What Kegan and Lahey advocate is talking to the person directly, not talking to others about the person. By speaking or writing directly to me instead of about me, it’ll be easier for people around me to establish rapport and create real relationships. In your office, when you talk to people directly, you’ll more often come across as the real you–sincere, authentic, wonderful.

Specific. Being specific is incredibly powerful. By talking about the exact action or behavior I took that made an impact. This is so much more valuable to me than hearing I’m a great gal or some such. I’d far rather know exactly what I did right–so I can do it again. When you are specific in what you’re appreciating, you’ll increase the chances that people know that the work they did mattered.

Nonattributive. This is a kind of funky word that means not describing me or giving me attributes that I may or may not agree that I have. For example, when someone tells me I was patient, my mind immediately supplies lots of examples of how I’m impatient. Instead, Kegan and Lahey suggest that appreciation takes the form of telling how the actions impacted the speaker. This really lights me up. “The presentation you gave inspired me to change how I process email. Now, I get to inbox zero everyday!” I live for that, way more than somebody telling me, “Tara, you’re great!”

This kind of appreciation–direct, specific, nonattributive–requires the willingness to be somewhat vulnerable. But vulnerability is incredibly powerful because it’s the ability to share the real you. Your vulnerability can also allow other people to dare to be vulnerable which could well start a chain reaction of great interactions and improved relationships around the workplace.



About the Author:

Tara is the newest member of the Cascade Employers team. As the Productivity Facilitator, her speciality is helping people conquer overwhelm and overload. She provides coaching services as well as speaking and training on many topics related to work productivity. You can learn more about her by visiting our website.


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