The power of acknowledgement

“Excuse me,” I said. “Hey, no problem,” came the reply along with a smile. Recently, I was shopping at a big box store in the city — one of those places where you buy furniture and assemble it at home. My wife and I were there on a Saturday so the store was packed with shoppers. As I waited for my wife, I observed something fascinating unfolding.

“Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian-British philosopher

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Hey, no problem,” came the reply along with a smile.

Recently, I was shopping at a big box store in the city — one of those places where you buy furniture and assemble it at home. My wife and I were there on a Saturday so the store was packed with shoppers. As I waited for my wife, I observed something fascinating unfolding. Shoppers were cutting in front of each other and going the wrong way up one-way aisles, but as long as the offenders apologized for their behaviour, it didn’t seem a big issue. An acknowledgement of the inappropriate behaviour was all that most people needed in order to forgive it. It was only when one shopper blatantly pushed her cart the wrong way, cut in front of others and refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing that people grew angry and frustrated.

Acknowledgement is a powerful force. As above, acknowledging a misstep and owning it (thus accepting accountability and responsibility for it) often makes it excusable.

In her best-seller The Power of Acknowledgment, author and business trainer Judith W. Umlas declares that acknowledgement is a vital component of personal and business success.

Umlas says that the world is filled with people who deserve acknowledgement. By acknowledging both strengths and opportunities for positive change, we can help others and ourselves reach full potential. The effective business leader and the empowered individual share a common quality: the ability to leverage talent and opportunity.

In other words, a skill for nurturing and encouraging the positive while recognizing the need for change in areas that do not serve the individual or the business. According to Umlas, people often have difficulty acknowledging strengths, value and opportunities in themselves and others.

Umlas asserts it is a skill that must be practised and one that develops as we become more confident and empowered.

According to the book — acknowledgment helps to build intimacy and creates powerful interactions. Umlas recommends that we learn to acknowledge the people around us directly, fully and sincerely — especially those with whom we are in an intimate relationship.

“Look for ways to say how much you value them and then be prepared for miracles.”

In a business setting, a willingness to recognize the good work of others can lead to higher energy levels, more positive feelings, improved performance and better results. Doubtless, we have all worked in environments where the only feedback we received was when things went wrong.

A failure to acknowledge good work, says Umlas, causes lethargy, resentment, sorrow and withdrawal. “Recognize and acknowledge good work, wherever you find it.”

I once worked for a boss who declared on my first day, “I don’t give compliments.”

And he didn’t, which left me always wondering if I was doing a good job or not. This was reinforced by the fact that he made a point of telling me when my work was unsatisfactory. I also recall taking a customer service course where one of the techniques for recovery was acknowledging a mistake or shortfall and then asking the customer what I could do to make it right.

For the most part, all most customers ever wanted was an acknowledgment that I cared about them.

Sincere, heartfelt and deserved acknowledgment can make a profound difference in a person’s work and personal life. The key word here is sincere.

Hollow praise has little value and is quickly recognized as counterfeit. Compliments given too frequently or freely, Umlas maintains, are of no more value than not giving them at all. Withholding sincere praise only leads to diminishing returns and poor performance.

Umlas claims that acknowledgment can improve the emotional and physical health of both the giver and the receiver. She cites substantial scientific evidence that gratitude and forgiveness (components of acknowledgement) help well-being, alertness and energy, diminish stress and reduce feelings of negativity, actually boosting the immune system.

She goes so far as to say that acknowledgement has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and heart failure.

The author suggests that we develop an acknowledgment repertoire that will help us reach out to the people in ways that will be the most meaningful to each situation and individual.

“Acknowledgement has the power to repair the world,” says Umlas.

“One person at a time.”

On a related note, a recent survey by Michelle McQuaid, one the world’s foremost leaders in psychological intervention (actions performed to bring about change) in the workplace revealed that 65 per cent of the American workforce would prefer a better boss to an increase in pay.

According to McQuaid, one of the leading reasons for dissatisfaction in the workplace was a lack of acknowledgement of good effort, good attitude or skills by a direct supervisor.

Honest self-acknowledgment helps to neutralize, defuse, deactivate and reduce the effect of negative emotions.

By learning to acknowledge — first our own strengths and opportunities and then those of others — we can bring about significant change both personally and professionally.

We can start by learning to embrace our thoughts and behaviours and owning them all outright. As in the big-box-store example, taking full responsibility for our actions and admitting when our behaviour may have been inappropriate is an essential step.

An interesting side benefit to enhancing our self-awareness in this area is the ability to recognize when we’ve done a good job and acknowledging that it’s also OK to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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