The problem about appreciation
I think what happens is that people are very concerned about getting appreciation. Most of us had very little as children and young people and far too much criticism. So it is hard to give now what we did not have and have not learned how to give. Appreciation is like a smile, if you give it away it comes back to you.
Just do it
I encourage you to decide to give three appreciative comments a day for a week and also to decide not to worry about whether you receive any. Your work place or family will become brighter and you may well get some back!
A good appreciation is genuine and believable. It can be light and still make someone’s day and increase their energy and motivation. Here are some examples.
“You look nice today”
“What a lovely neat desk”
“Thanks for that report, it was short, readable and elegantly presented”
“I appreciated your support and courage in the meeting. It would have been easier for you to agree with the majority”
“I always enjoy talking to you, you listen really well”
“What a great idea!”
You can often catch people doing things right, if you want to.
I remember saying to my daughter at nine years old that she could be anything she chose when she grew up. She responded so well and is now living her dream.
An appreciation exercise
I like to do this with a group at the end of a workshop or long meeting when people have learned a bit about each other. Each person has a sheet of A4 paper and writes their name clearly at the bottom. You then pass the paper to your neighbour who writes on the top of the page a word or words that describe what they have most appreciated positively about the person whose name is on the bottom of the sheet. Each person folds the sheet of paper forwards to cover what he or she has written and passes it on to the next person, who writes their comments and does the same. Eventually, you get your piece of paperback.
Then ask each person to note the comment she or he likes the best. Then everyone stands up, in a close circle and reads out his or her favourite comment preceding it with “I am”, while everyone else listens attentively.
I always take part in this exercise and keep the comments. They are good to refer back to. I had a very dour manager called Tom on a counselling course once when we did a version of this. I met him a few months later to enquire how things were going at the end of our chat he said, “That exercise at the end really was useful, whenever I feel really down I pull out my sheet and realise that I am OK!”
Because of the invalidation and criticism most of us have experienced we can carry internalised “tape recordings” that plays all the time that says something like “You are no good/bad/useless/worthless” or “You are only valuable or loveable if you achieve/are clever/are rich/win”. These messages all imply that we have no intrinsic worth just for being ourselves. Babies and very young children, if treated well, appear to feel valuable and expect to be loved for “being”. They have nothing to prove.
It is possible to reduce the impact of these tape recordings and even eliminate them entirely by appreciating yourself. It is very counter cultural to stand in a group and tell the other people all the things you like about yourself, but it is possible. You don’t die of embarrassment but it feels close! There is a very good chapter in The Human Situation by Harvey Jackins about this. The book is available via the Re-evaluation Counselling website http://www.rc.org/
This is another exercise that uses appreciation and can be very effective for building teams and relationships.
The participants are in a small face-to-face group. In a larger group when time is short, demonstrate the process with one person in front of the group. Then break people into groups of four and five.
Each person has a turn of say 15 minutes as the focus of the group.
- She or he describes an event in which she or he achieved something they felt good about. It does not have to about work. Everyone else listens intently.
- Each group member tells the person above two or three strengths she must have used to achieve it. The person adds one or two of his own.
- The person states the one strength of all the ones she has heard that she /he likes the best. If people are ready they may “own” this by going round the group and saying to each person in turn “I am (e g) resourceful!” A facilitator may encourage further growth by encouraging her/him to use a clear and positive tone of voice and posture with no trace of self-deprecation.
After everyone has had a turn, ask people how they feel about themselves and the group and what they have learned.
People develop in confidence and self esteem as they discover their achievements and skills are valuable. They appreciate the depths in other people and want to know more. The shared and rather intense experience builds group cohesion. People enjoy it too.