Workshop Recap: Acknowledgement Works! Part 1: Giving Recognition

By: Kate De Jong , Director of People Development, Red Door Interactive
At Red Door Interactive, we respect each other. We pay attention and catch each other doing things well; then, we recognize those efforts. All-in-all we’re 100% Jerk-Free (hands-down, our favorite core value) and not stingy with praise. But... there are pitfalls to giving effective recognition, and if we tell the truth, there’s some awkwardness and embarrassment in accepting that recognition! Lucky for Red Door, we had an expert in the house this June. Christopher Littlefield, founder of Acknowledgement Works and consultant & coach, led us in a Lunch & Learn workshop to help us understand the finer points of how recognition works best. Here are some interesting takeaways I gathered from Chris specifically about giving effective recognition. Watch for a second post about receiving recognition gracefully. One: We go through a whole range of feelings when someone thanks us for a job well done. - (Not all of those feelings are positive.) Motivated, unbelieving, successful, singled-out, relieved, valued, embarrassed, suspicious, proud... the list goes on. No, we’re not schizophrenic, but we do relate to recognition in the context of all our past experiences. Remember that time when your 8th grade teacher asked you to stand and take a bow for writing your name, date, and period correctly at the top of your homework? Yeah! Now remember when she followed that with an admonition to all the slackers who didn't do it right? Yikes. Oh, wait,- that was me. What was your bad experience with recognition? If you've had any, you may prefer not to be recognized at all, or you may worry that there are ulterior motives for the kudos - especially if you got teased later that day for being the teacher’s pet. Two: Those ulterior motives we have when we acknowledge people undermine our integrity and can make the recognition seem hollow. Well-meaning managers, teachers, camp counselors, parents (kids, too!), have all couched recognition in conversations that really are about an entirely different intention. Here are some common ways that happens:

  • “Positive Pre-emptive” (AKA “Sandwiching”) Technique
    • Example: “Grace, you’re very good at writing blog posts! I just love the way you express yourself. But, you need to make sure you submit them to the Marketing department on time so that they don’t get behind on their deadlines. But really, keep up the good creative writing efforts.”
    • Intention: We do this to redirect poor behavior and probably intend to help a person develop/improve, but we add in the recognition to soften the blow of the negative feedback.
    • Result: The person receiving the feedback doesn't really hear what they should improve on, and she becomes conditioned to thinking that a compliment is going to be followed by a negative statement. There’s little uptake of the recognition or the request for behavior change.
  • “Butter Them Up” Technique
    • Example: “Mom, this dinner is one of the best you’ve ever made. Thanks for slaving in the hot kitchen to serve us a delicious meal! Can I have the car keys & $20 to go out with my friends?”
    • Intention: We want something and feel like we’ll be more successful getting what we want if we freely compliment the person who can grant our wish.
    • Result: Mom is not convinced that you really liked the meal. You may get the $20 and the car keys, but did you really earn it? The experience is hollow for both of you.
  • “Guilt-Praise” Technique
    • Example:
      • What you think to yourself: “Oh shoot, I really screwed up when I jumped all over Gregg for a delay in responding to that client’s voice mail. I just found out from the client that Gregg was quick & thorough and I had misunderstood the situation.”
      • What you say to Gregg: “Gregg, I really appreciate how dedicated you are to your job. I brought you your favorite coffee from Starbucks. Thanks!”
    • Intention: You want to find a way to make Gregg ‘like’ you; you want to make up for the mistake you made. So you give a compliment and hope he forgets you were a jerk.
    • Result: You lost Gregg’s trust (or at least made him wary) and he can see through you ploy to apologize by giving gifts.
Three: Don’t hinder your integrity by sending mixed messages. Give guidance and feedback for improvement when it’s needed. Ask for something you need when you need to. Apologize when you’ve done something wrong. Then, when you want to recognize someone’s hard work and impact they've had, they will believe you.     There’s more... watch for another blog post. Now you know the finer points about providing effective recognition. If you take these ideas to heart and work to provide someone authentic acknowledgement for a job well done, then you’re going to make a difference for that person. They'll likely feel valued and engaged and you’ll get the best from them in their future endeavors. The other half of the story is how we react when someone tries to recognize us. Watch for Part Two of this “Acknowledgement Works!” post to learn why recognition can feel so awkward and the effect we have when we sabotage the recognition. If you’re eager to know more right now, check out Chris Littlefield’s TedxBeruit presentation for a 15 minute look at our love/hate relationship to recognition.  

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