How Have the People Around You Made You Better?

When was the last time a group of people let you know the difference you’ve made in their lives? Or showered you in praise while pointing out the particular contributions you’ve made to them? Most of us only experience that when leaving a job after a long time, and/or at our funeral when there’s no way for us to hear it, but some of the most encouraging workplaces I’ve been invited into build this into their regular routines. Sometimes this takes place officially as part of a seasonal ‘closing ceremony.’ An exciting indication of a workplace culture of appreciation is when it takes place informally, without prompting, and even on an ongoing basis.

Over the past few months I have been part of a team of thirty facilitators working together in varying combinations a few times a week, with different client groups each time. Throughout, the team has naturally acknowledged each others’ contributions and strengths, and as the season came to a close, many of the team took time one-on-one to say what they had learned or how they were shaped by the work of the other – “You helped me to bring more excitement into large group activities,” or “I’m better at debriefing now because of you.” This was not structured; it was a natural occurrence in a culture that prioritizes the sharing of skills and support. As the old saying often attributed to John F. Kennedy goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

I wonder if this kind of experience takes place in your workplace culture? If not, could it? Or does your workplace feel more competitive? Perhaps it mirrors others I’ve been invited into, where individual growth and accomplishment are more highly lauded. These workplaces (unintentionally) demonstrate a “fixed mindset” culture, where acknowledging the contribution another person has made in one’s own work might occur as highlighting the knowledge or skills that were lacking in oneself previously. These workplaces hire employees as “experts in…” rather than “students of…”; while they might attract highly-driven employees, they often have high turnover and a lower employee satisfaction rating in the long term.

So if you’re aiming to create a more collaborative culture focused on appreciation, what’s a step you can take this week, regardless of your role?

This Week’s Tip:

Take brief moments to acknowledge specific ways that colleagues and teammates have impacted and influenced you. Be as specific as possible about what you have learned from them and how you work differently as a result. Aim to build this into your regular routine rather than overdoing it and trying to acknowledge everyone in one week; doing so may seem formulaic and forced. Instead, think ahead about each colleague or teammate, and pay attention to good in-the-moment times to acknowledge each person, even if it’s over the course of a few months.

  1. If you manage a team and/or lead group meetings: Find appropriate times to acknowledge others in meetings. Depending on who you are acknowledging, it may be most impactful to do this in a group situation, but use your best judgement; some may prefer to be acknowledged one-on-one and may not be able to accept it publicly.
  2. If you do not lead a team: Take some time to think through the contribution of your colleagues and your managers, and when the time is right, acknowledge them either one-on-one or in a group meeting. You may be surprised to find that others follow your lead!
  3. If others acknowledge you: Rather than dismiss it or deflect it – as many us are wont to do – try to sit with the acknowledgement; make eye contact and listen to the key words that they use. Perhaps even write the acknowledgement down afterwards to carry around with you and reflect on later. Then think about where you picked up the skills that you are being acknowledged for; if you learned those from someone else, consider sending that person a note to acknowledge them for passing the skills along to you in the first place.

Try this out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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