When we are acknowledged we feel more than just seen and heard, we feel understood and appreciated.
When we acknowledge others we show them that we see them at a deeper level, we see what they had to pull out to the bag to act.
Compliment: A polite expression of praise or admiration.
Unlike a compliment, an acknowledgment goes deeper into who are are being while observing what we are doing. It gets to the heart of what’s important, connects with our values and engages in a way a compliment is unable to do. A compliment is like dipping your toe in the ocean on a hot day, an acknowledgement is diving into the ocean and experiencing it fully.
Acknowledgement: Recognition of the importance or quality of something
Esther approached me for coaching after leaving her role in senior management. She became aware of a pattern in her leadership: a mismatch between her intentions as a leader and the impact she was having as a leader.
“I used to have a reputation for being a shallow manager. For over five years this feedback kept coming up on my 360 reviews and it hurt. My managers used to say things like, ‘You know Esther, once people get to know you they really like working for you, but some are not so patient to wait until they get to know you’.
“Through investing time in working on myself and changing my style things improved. The change that made the biggest difference was:
1. When I took time to really listen to others. This helped me to truly understand them and what was important to them; and
2. Learning the difference between complimenting someone and acknowledging them.
“It felt very uncomfortable at first, and I worried that I would come across as even more insincere. I kept going and practiced, then one day it didn’t feel so foreign and out of place. Things started to change.”
“If I was going to mentor my younger self I’d tell her that it’s okay to be you, to be a bit shy and that’s not an excuse for hiding from people. It’s important to learn how to talk to people in a way that makes a difference to them. Simple really! But hard for me at the time. In the past I would avoid people and conversations. Then I would give a compliment and people would think I was shallow.
“Now when I share my story of being a terrible manager and how I learnt to be a better leader, people are surprised. They can’t see this person I was eight years ago — that’s good! It helps them to know leadership is a skill we need to learn and practice always.”
Another client, Jordan, wanted to improve his confidence when speaking in meetings.
He was nervous about speaking in public. He knew that to advance in his career he needed to overcome this and yet he found it terrifying.
“My manager pushed me to speak more at meetings. He asked me to present to his boss and executive team. I was terrified. I worked hard to prepare. I slept badly for weeks before I presented. No one but my boss knew how hard this was for me. I got through it all okay.”
Jordan’s manager could have given him a compliment:
“Good job today Jordan, well done. I think it went well.”
Or an acknowledgment:
“Jordan I know how much work you put into today’s presentation and how hard it was for you to stand up in front of everyone. You showed a lot of courage today, well done.”
By acknowledging what it took for Jordan internally/personally to present at the meeting, his manager was seeing him in a deeper way. Jordan felt, seen heard and understood. He was acknowledged for who he was being rather than just what he was doing.
Some tips to get you going
1. Think about the compliments you give, then look deeper;
2. Be specific;
3. What is the behaviour that you observed?
4. How would you articulate this behaviour?
5. What did it take for the person to do what they did? What did they show by their actions? Or non action; and
6. Share the impact you observed and how it made you/others feel.
Be authentic; incongruence will be felt immediately and will backfire, hurting you and the person you are talking to. Take the time to acknowledge what will be meaningful to the person, not what would be meaningful to you.
Watch this video of the team at St John Ambulance (Vic) acknowledging their volunteers.
Everyone I meet at St John Ambulance (Vic) from Gordon Botwright, the chief executive, Cindy Welsh, general manager of people and culture, to team members throughout the organisation, the message is consistent, strong and clear. Their volunteers are the lifeblood of the organisation, without them they could not do what they do. They are congruent as individuals and as an organisation.
An excellent resource to deepen your skills of acknowledgement is Co-Active Coaching by Laura Whitworth, Karen & Henry Kimsey-House.
Go and practice. It may feel clunky at first and it’s definitely worth the investment of practice.