Mastering Acknowledgement

As a former organizational coach, I was privileged to listen to deeply moving and inspiring stories about people from all walks of life who practiced the “I really see you” level of acknowledgement. Most of us have had the experience of being seen for who we are and who we could be, and we know the priceless quality of this perception. This is especially the case when we are struggling or going through a difficult period in our lives or at work. I love the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer whose eloquence and depth of understanding speak to this level of acknowledgement: 

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

This level of “feedback” might make you a tad uncomfortable because it seems too “personal.” I see it differently. The hundreds of stories I’ve listened to tell me that supervisors, mentors and even co-workers can and do play a significant role in “rekindling the spark.” Think about it – when we fail to “see” the people we work with for their unique gifts, strengths, qualities and characteristics, we miss a huge opportunity to express the kind of respect that deepens relationships and strengthens contribution.

Levels of Acknowledgement: A Deeper Dive 

At its core, acknowledgement is about paying attention and being attentive. It is also about cultivating a deeper, more intentional level of awareness. Let’s see what this looks like at each level. 

Level 1: I Notice You

  • Practice being aware of any and everyone who enters your visual field. 
  • Hold yourself to an “I notice you” standard – extend some verbal or non-verbal signal that says, “Yes, I know you are there” to everyone in your workplace.
  • Sharpen your awareness antennae by “noticing” outside of work. That guy who is trying to make a turn in front of you? Let him in. That cashier who hands you your receipt? Make eye contact, smile and thank him or her.

Level 2: I Recognize You

  • Be sure that your recognition is sincere, specific and true.
  • Maximize the power of informal recognition – say “thank you” for specific contributions – verbally and virtually – at every opportunity. This also includes acknowledging phone, text and email messages, as in “Got the info on the XYZ research from you; thanks, it will help a lot.” Also use symbolic forms of recognition that are appropriate to your culture. 
  • If you don’t have any formal recognition in place, get together with others to see what would be appropriate to your work culture and what can be done. 
  • Show respect by asking the people you work with what forms of recognition they would appreciate. 

Level 3: I Appreciate You

Take a few moments to focus individually on each of your coworkers. Ask yourself what you “see” in them. Consider their unique gifts, strengths, qualities and characteristics. I love this quote from writer and counselor Rusty Berkus: There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.” Here are a few “seeing statements” that employees shared with me from the “Level Three Acknowledgers” in their lives:

  • “You have an incredible fire in your belly!”
  • “Your compassion for people is boundless.”
  • “You set a standard for professionalism that I marvel at.”
  • “Nothing will ever keep you down.”
  • “You have the gift of patience.” 
  • “You will accomplish everything you set out to do.”
  • “I believe in you.”

Culture of Acknowledgement

When you master acknowledgement at every level, you express a deep level of respect for who others are, what they do and the difference that they make. You become the example to follow when you “walk the talk” acknowledgement. 

Hats off to the Forsyth Magazine staff who do a brilliant job of walking the talk of acknowledgement. Thank you!


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