recognition and appreciation

Is there a difference between recognition and appreciation?

As leaders, we hear how recognition and appreciation are important for fostering workplaces where team members feel valued and supported.

By doing this, we not only build relationships, but we build the foundation of strong teams: we build team trust.

While recognition and appreciation might be similar in practice, they are distinctly different in an important way.

Recognition is earned by doing something; it’s related to performance or results. Consequently, by nature, recognition is past-focused and conditional.

Examples of recognition are things like awards, bonuses, or promotions or even an informal thank you.

Appreciation is celebrating team members for who they are. It’s more about being grateful and cognizant of who they are as people and what they bring to the team.

Think about how often you have opportunities for recognition with your team. There might be some really impressive moments to acknowledge and celebrate, but there are also many struggles of good effort (perhaps some failures). Aside from that, there are usually many peripheral contributors on your team who may not often end up in the spotlight. What about them?

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article by Mike Robbins about why employees need both recognition and appreciation. I really liked this quote he used from a commencement speech that Oprah gave that highlights why appreciation is as important as recognition:

I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience…The common denominator that I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: “Was that OK?” I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyoncé in all of her Beyoncé-ness…[We] all want to know one thing: “Was that OK?” “Did you hear me?” “Do you see me?” “Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Seen, Heard and Understood

In coaching school, we learn that a key component of coaching is to ensure our client is, “seen, heard and understood” because everyone wants to be seen, heard and understood by at least one person.

We all need to feel appreciated. Everyone from our team members and colleagues to bosses and clients. They all want and need to be seen, heard and understood. (This also works for personal relationships!)

Here are ways to make sure that the people you work with feel that you appreciate them:

  • Make eye contact when you speak to them. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of work and answer while reading your phone or email, but actually stopping and looking someone in the eye says they matter.
  • Listen to understand. If you follow our blog, you know that we really encourage leaders to focus on listening to understand because too often we listen with the intent to respond. People want to be heard. When you stop and really listen, what they say might help you to respond better (or differently!).
  • Don’t wait for a reason to connect. While you may think you’re available and you talk with your team when necessary, it’s not the same to, say, ask for an update on a project as it is to just check in with them one-to-one. Chatting informally with the folks that you work with and asking how things are going with their work or a specific project (not in passing – but taking a minute to really listen!) will let them know you care about them as people and not just cogs in the wheel.
  • Tell people what you value about them. When you take time to acknowledge that someone on your team has a particular skill or talent, they feel seen. It could be as simple as a quick email to say, hey, I really like how you pitched in on this assignment and shared your knowledge of formatting the document. Feedback that is timely and authentic can really affect how people feel about working with you.
  • Give a handwritten thank you. In this day and age of texting and emails, a handwritten note really says that you’ve taken the time to stop and say something. It underscores that you’ve made an effort to highlight your gratitude for something that you’ve noticed about someone.
  • Acknowledge an absence. When folks are away from work, whether for something happy like a vacation or challenging like an illness, pick up the slack for them. Then, when they return, let them know how much they were missed.
  • Offer to help. If someone is having difficulty (personal or professional), show that you care about them by offering to help. They may or may not accept your offer, but they’ll know that you valued them enough to make an effort.
  • Give a do-over. We all make mistakes. Once in a while it’s nice if the folks around us give us a do-over. Show people you trust them to make things right.
  •  Celebrate milestones, both personal and professional. Finding reasons to celebrate together for everything from winning contracts to birthdays builds a company culture of growth and happiness.
  • Ask about their lives. Some people are more comfortable than others about sharing details about their lives outside of work but getting to know your team builds trust relationships. Pay attention when members of your team share bits and pieces of their lives and show an interest so they feel you value them as people.
  • If you’re not their boss, tell their boss how much you appreciate this person. There are so many things that can go unnoticed – and unappreciated – unless someone says something. Be that someone.

Coach’s Questions: 

How have you shown your team members recognition lately? How have you shown appreciation? Are there ways you can improve? What are ways you can start this week?

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