Workshop Recap: Acknowledgement Works! Part 2: Accepting Recognition

By: Kate De Jong , Director of People Development, Red Door Interactive

Part one of the acknowledgement story was all about giving effective recognition by making sure we don’t succumb to ulterior motives, employ counterproductive recognition techniques, or send mixed messages to those we’re trying to thank. If you 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 continuing story, as Red Door peeps learned in a great workshop last month, is about what we do when we’re uncomfortable accepting a thank you AND the effect we have when we sabotage someone’s thanks. After reading this post, I hope you think twice about how to receive acknowledgement gracefully.
Overheard: a ‘Thank You’ exchange (in the kitchen at Red Door’s Carlsbad office): Here’s a paraphrased conversation showing one of our business supervisors trying to thank our office manager for helping with a client meeting we hosted. (Let’s call the business supervisor “Jeff” and the office manager “Kerry”) Jeff: “Hey Kerry, thanks for getting the office prepared for our strategy workshop yesterday! I know the room set up, lunch orders, and making that unexpected run to the store for drinks took up a lot of your time.” Kerry: “Really, it was nothing. I felt bad that I couldn’t help when the monitor didn’t work. I always get flustered when technology fails in meetings like that, and you handled it so smoothly.” Not a bad exchange at first pass. But did Kerry really hear the Thank You? Does she know that her actions helped Jeff run a successful workshop? And if she did pick up on that, does Jeff know that Kerry actually ‘heard’ the thank you?
“What do you want to be acknowledged for?” If you recall from my previous post about recognition, we spent a great hour & a half in a Lunch & Learn session with Chris Littlefield (founder of Acknowledgement Works), and his first question to us was this: “What do you want to be acknowledged for?” This is a hard question to contemplate– we’ve spent a fair amount of time here at Red Door learning how to effectively thank others for their hard work, but rarely do I put into words the value of my own efforts. And when I DO consider my successes, I tend to temper them with thoughts about things that I didn’t accomplish, where I fell short on a task, or challenges that had me changing my plan and ending up with something that, in my estimation, was “less-than-perfect.” In short, I focus on the GAP between what I intended to do and what I actually accomplished. In the case of Jeff & Kerry above, the way Kerry responded to Jeff has me thinking that she didn’t really understand how helpful her actions were. She might have intended to get those drinks the evening before and instead had to run out in the middle of the day. Perhaps she wanted to get to the office an hour early but got stuck in traffic on the I-5 and only had 20 minutes to get the room set up. It’s possible that she wanted to add a few ‘decorating details’ to really impress the client when they arrived and she didn’t have time. These unfulfilled plans may have made Kerry feel like she fell short. Why accept praise for that? On the other hand, Jeff didn’t know about all of those compromises. He DOES know that Kerry’s involvement really helped him out and that Kerry played a part in making the workshop a success. He genuinely wanted to thank her.
Don’t Deflect Recognition! What’s YOUR most typical response when someone thanks you for your efforts? Kerry’s response was, “It was nothing.” You might say, “Oh, I had a lot of help from [insert colleague’s name here].” Or maybe you say, “No problem. And thank YOU for [insert random nice thing done by ‘thank-er’].” Or possibly you just don’t know what to say, so you extract yourself as quickly as possible by saying, “Oh, sure. Actually, I’m sorry to run off but I have [insert pressing meeting or activity (real or manufactured)]. We deflect recognition because, let’s face it, it’s awkward to accept a thank you. It’s easier to:
  • Downplay your efforts; joke about it or show how much help you had
  • Play “compliment ping pong”
  • Steamroll over the acknowledgement
But what is the effect of deflecting recognition? It seems like it should be OK to act humbly and brush it off, right? Not so. Chew on this a while: accepting a compliment should be about considering the giver, not yourself and your own discomfort. When someone gives you the gift of acknowledging you and you divert it, it’s like taking that gift and throwing it back at the giver. We’d never do that with a birthday present; why do we do it with compliments? Back to “What do you want to be acknowledged for?” – Try this! So how do you get better at accepting recognition? Chris didn’t just ask us this question rhetorically at the beginning of our workshop. To wrap up his time with us, Chris made us get up and mingle with each other, asking and answering the question “What do you want to be acknowledged for?” with at least three people. The second part of this exercise was to accept the compliment given to us about the effort we described. Can you say “uncomfortable”?! Yes, it was uncomfortable to talk about a recent accomplishment, and even more odd to stand there and accept recognition for it. But this is where the “at least three times” comes in... Why did we repeat this exercise at least three times? The first time I had to answer, it was VERY awkward to talk about it and gracefully accept the compliment. The second time through, it felt less strange, and I started getting the hang of accepting a compliment. By the third time, I felt I was receiving the acknowledgement in a much more graceful way. What an eye-opener! So, it’s time to put aside those misguided behaviors that prevent us from providing people with genuine recognition, and it’s time to stop being embarrassed when someone thanks us for a job well done. If this two part blog has piqued your interest and you want a fuller look at the ideas I’ve shared about giving and receiving acknowledgement, I highly recommend you check out Chris Littlefield’s engaging TedxBeruit presentation. In around15 minutes, you’ll get an expert’s insights at our love/hate relationship to recognition.

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