A few weeks ago, Esther Derby, inspired by a Fast Company article about Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey, wrote a short article about appreciation.
Esther says, "Some people are uncomfortable expressing appreciation." I know something about that. When I first learned about Temperature Reading, at Weinberg & Weinberg's week-long Problem Solving Leadership workshop in 1992, I felt very uncomfortable expressing appreciation. We held several Temperature Readings during the week, and at each I expressed my appreciation to several people for things they had done. Each time, as I opened my mouth to speak, my throat tightened and my eyes teared up. I was puzzled about that, and I made a mental note to think about what was going on for me in those moments. Why would it be so difficult to express something as wonderful as appreciation?
Over the next several months I experimented with expressing appreciation to people at work. Slowly I noticed what made it hard for me. Whenever I expressed my appreciation, I was reminding myself (unconsciously) that I, too, yearn for appreciation, and that I wasn't experiencing the appreciation I wanted from others. And I was reminding myself (again unconsciously) that I often left my own appreciation unexpressed.
Once I was aware of my yearning, I found ways to satisfy it. The most important way was to remember to express appreciation for myself. When I began to do that, I found that I was more able to appreciate others, and that I didn't feel such a strong need for other people to appreciate me. I'm sure that affected the way I related to people, because they began to express their appreciation for me.
In a comment on Esther's article, Robert Watkins suggests that "This is one of those new age ideas which can be nice in theory, but in practice often just results in fake sincerity." When I'm facilitating a session of appreciations, I do a few things that encourage sincerity. First, I invite appreciations. I don't require them. It's possible that people may feel some internal pressure ("I should ...") to say nice things when others around them are saying nice things to each other. I haven't noticed a problem with that. Sometimes I see a chain reaction, in which the people who receive appreciation immediately want to offer appreciations of their own. However it happens, the appreciations that people express seem sincere to me.
Second, I encourage the person giving the appreciation to describe specifically what the receiver did, and what need that fulfilled for the giver. The main reason I encourage this is that the specifics make appreciation more meaningful, both to the giver and to the receiver. Sincerity is just a bonus, a nice side effect. It's hard to be both insincere and specific about what someone has done and what need that has served for you.
In another comment, Jason Yip says, "I'm wondering if it's useful, if doing it in public is a bit too 'New Age', whether it would be appropriate to start out with individuals doing it privately by themselves."
I think it is wonderful for individuals to start by offering appreciations in private. It's also wonderful to start in public. Here's an example.
My friend Joe managed a team of a dozen software developers. He wanted his team, one of the more effective teams in the organization, to become even more cohesive than they already were, and asked me to help with that. One of Joe's concerns was that the people on the team may not be reviewing each other's code as often or as eagerly as he would like. We talked more about the situation, and decided that I would facilitate a Temperature Reading for the team.
A Temperature Reading is an activity that gives a team important information about itself and its members. The first phase of a Temperature Reading is appreciations. I offered people an opportunity to express appreciation to their colleagues for things they had done.
The people in the room—hardcore geeks all—had no trouble offering appreciations to each other. They offered dozens. And my impression was that about half of the appreciations were about code reviews. "John, I appreciate that you found that null pointer bug in my code."
Joe noticed, over the next few weeks, that people were more eager to review each other's code, and more eager to express appreciation to each other in the moment.
Starting privately is good. Starting publicly is good. When it comes to expressing appreciation, whatever will get you started is the right way to start.
Speaking of getting started, I started to write this article two weeks ago, inspired by Esther's earlier article. Then I set it aside. Today Esther offers another look at appreciation, this time as a form of recognition. And I was inspired again.
Esther, I appreciate your two articles about appreciation. The first inspired me to remember some of the wonderful things I've learned about appreciation, and to start writing this article. The second inspired me to finish what I'd started.
Robert and Jason, I appreciate your expressing your concerns. Your comments to Esther inspired me to write about my experience doing Temperature Readings with technical people, many of whom may share your concerns.