To the degree you give others what they need, they will give you what you need.
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield always said he “got no respect.” In fact, it was so bad that his wife wouldn’t let him be in their wedding photographs.
Now that’s bad. But it’s nothing new. About a hundred years ago, one of the founding fathers of psychology, Dr. William James, wrote, “The deepest craving in human nature is to be appreciated.”
How true! And I would even say this craving is so deep and so broad, that very few of us ever get enough. The need for appreciation, recognition, and respect is almost always there — waiting to be satisfied.
The reason is quite simple. People are usually more concerned with getting their recognition needs met than meeting the recognition needs of others.
However, if you take the time to extend appreciation, to help others satisfy this deepest of all psychological cravings, you will have power. You will have the power to positively influence them.
So how do you extend appreciation? What really works? Of course I cover that in great detail in my program on “PEAK PERFORMANCE: Motivating the Best in Others.” But here are a few tips to get you started.
BE CREDIBLE. If you’ve seldom had a kind word for anyone, sudden lavish expressions of appreciation will cause suspicion. People doubt dramatic conversions.
Start with a single compliment. Then share another one a few days later. If you slowly increase the frequency of your praise, your friends and colleagues are more likely to believe and accept your appreciation.
BE SPECIFIC. General statements such as “You’re wonderful… super… neat… great” are too vague to be fully effective. People will wonder if you’re “just saying it” or if you really mean it. And they’ll never know for sure what you are referring to.
I can remember back to my days of being a college student. I would work and work and work on a paper for a professor. But when I got it back, if it only had a general comment like “Good job,” even if I got an “A” I felt cheated. There was nothing specific to hold on to or build from.
Your appreciation is much more effective when it’s specific. Tell the other person exactly what you like about him. Or tell her precisely what was so good about her performance. Your specificity tells the other person you’ve taken the time to think about what you’re saying, and he or she is much more likely to internalize the praise.
COMMENT ON IMPROVEMENT. Nothing is more demoralizing than have others ignore the improvements we have made. We need to know that they have noticed.
Let’s say, for example, that you give an employee a performance review. You ask the employee to make some improvements, and he agrees to do so.
As soon as he makes a step in that direction, you’ve got to comment. If you wait until the next formal discussion, which may be six weeks or six months, you both lose. He figures you didn’t notice so why should he bother to improve. You’ve got to comment on improvement as soon as you see it.
GIVE PUBLIC COMMENDATIONS. One-on-one private praisings are not nearly as effective as those done in public. As a manager, you could share some appreciation at an employee meeting, or allow an employee to be present when you are telling your boss about the employee’s success.
PUT IT IN WRITING. Even though face-to-face appreciation is wonderful, sometimes it can be even more powerful to put your comments on paper. Take three minutes from your schedule. Write out four or five sentences — handwritten, not e-mail — and send them to the person.
I find that employees and coworkers keep those notes for a long, long time. Somehow they know it takes a bit more time and effort to compose a note than make a comment, and that makes your appreciation all the more special.
I’ll never forget the impact one of my notes had. To encourage one of my college students years ago, I wrote him a note that said: “I enjoy having you in class. I like your jokes and stories. You make class more fun.”
Then I went on to write the following, because he seemed to be struggling a bit in my class. I wrote, “I think you’ll be okay in college. Don’t give up. You have my support.”
Seventeen years later, a man hollered out to me at Logan Airport in Boston. He said, “Dr. Zimmerman, I want to thank you for your note. It changed my life.”
Of course I wondered, “What note?” I had forgotten.
He pulled out of his wallet a ragged piece of paper, my note from seventeen years before. He said, “You don’t know this, but my parents told me I was too stupid for college. And I was scared when I started because I had never done well in school. Then you wrote me the note. Whenever I’ve felt insecure the last number of years, I’ve taken out your note and read it again. I’ll bet I’ve read your note a thousand times.”
I thought, “Wow! A single note motivated someone to achieve his goals for years and years.” So I hope you’re putting your praise in writing once in a while.
USE RELAYED POSITIVES. When you hear someone compliment another individual, pass on the compliment. Give it to the appropriate individual. It always feels good to know that others are talking about you in a positive way.
TURN NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES. You can almost always find a way to turn destructive criticism into constructive praise. Instead of saying, “It took you 5 years to graduate. What was your problem?” — You could say, “You stuck it out. Not everyone would have done that.”
When you take the time and make the effort to extend sincere, timely appreciation, you create the perfect win-win situation. The other person feels great receiving your appreciation, and you feel great for giving it. And the atmosphere is positively charged for greater amounts of cooperation and productivity.
Action: No one ever complains about getting too much appreciation. So pick 3 people amongst your coworkers and customers to appreciate this week. And pick another 3 people from amongst your friends and family members.
Then use at least 2 of the appreciation methods outlined in today’s tip. Go ahead and give your appreciation. Your world will be a better place because of it.