Master the Three Levels of Acknowledgement: Deepen Your Commitment to Respect and Accountability

By Jean Marie Johnson

When you think of the word "acknowledgement," which of the following statements comes to mind?:
  • Hey, how're you doin'?
  • That was awesome!
  • You are incredible.
It's little wonder that the question elicits a variety of responses because acknowledgement does indeed come in many shapes, sizes and forms.

If the first response sounds like acknowledgement to you, you are describing being noticed by someone. If the second statement sounds more like it, you are describing being recognized for something you did. And if the third statement resonates most strongly as a form of acknowledgement, you are describing the least common form of acknowledgement: being appreciated for who you are.

Levels of Acknowledgement

The three examples we just considered are indeed all forms of acknowledgement, and they reflect one of three acknowledgement levels:

  • Hey, how're you doin'?   - The "I notice you" level
  • That was awesome!        - The "I recognize you" level
  • You are incredible!          - The "I appreciate you" level

Each of these has a valid and necessary place in our work communities and deserves a closer look within the context of a MAGIC work culture.

Respect and Accountability are at the Heart of Acknowledgement
We know that MAGIC® is based on two foundational principles that guide our actions and inform our choices. Respect refers to a focus on establishing, restoring, or enhancing our relationships. Accountability refers to a focus on accomplishing our tasks and bringing issues to resolution. Let's consider how acknowledgement reflects these principles.
 

Acknowledgement Levels at Work

I Notice You…when I notice and acknowledge you, I am in effect saying "I recognize your presence or existence." This act of noticing often comes in the form of a micro-second glance, a wave of a hand, a quick flash of a smile, and so on.  It communicates that I see you…not in the way that we see something cross our windshield when we are driving, but rather, that we have a relationship and I am connecting with you. This is the most fundamental expression of respect that one human extends to another.
 
Most of us think of this as a given, as a simple human courtesy. And yet, it is another example of common sense not being common practice. Consider that in workplaces where people report feeling shunned, dismissed or disrespected, they often cite the absence of this basic human form of acknowledgement. This missed opportunity is especially disturbing to employees when it takes the form of leaders failing to acknowledge them. When human beings at work are not noticed, they feel disrespected. Their anger becomes hurt and their hurt contributes to feeling disengaged. In other words, they check out. When we fail to acknowledge by noticing, we make people feel invisible; we demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect for them.

I Recognize You…when I acknowledge you by recognizing what you do or how you contribute, I may say, "Thank you, I appreciate what you did." That expression of acknowledgement and gratitude may come in the form of spoken words, a note or an e-mail. It might also take the form of recognition via a symbol of accomplishment such as a plaque or certificate, maybe even a monetary award. The point is that, in the workplace, my acknowledgement is directly related to a specific contribution.

And that is vital when you consider research estimates that approximately 50,000 thoughts go through our heads each day and on average, 80% of them are negative. Depending on the individual, some percentage of these thoughts is directed internally, in the form of negative self-talk. It is little wonder, then that genuine acknowledgement by others has a strong, positive effect on us, that recognition matters in a big way.
 
Research conducted by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman further demonstrated that recognition drives engagement and it drives performance. In fact, one of the top six attributes of leaders of high performing teams is that their employees said "yes" to this question: "In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?" When we fail to acknowledge via recognition, we show disregard or disrespect for the accountability demonstrated by others.

Now here's a curious and disturbing twist: you might think that in workplaces where recognition is practiced and celebrated, acknowledgement in the form of noticing would be a given.  And yet, this isn't always, or uniformly the case. Surveys often indicate that while employees say that they are being recognized, there are leaders who simply do not practice acknowledging by noticing. And that's what employees notice. In other words, if you acknowledge me by recognizing me, but you fail to acknowledge me by noticing me, you are sending a mixed message.  And that impacts trust.

I Appreciate You…when I acknowledge your fundamental worth and value, I send you a message that says "I see you." This is the deepest and most profound form of acknowledgement because it goes beyond noticing, and is unattached to a specific reason for recognizing. When I acknowledge someone on this level, I am acknowledging the existence or truth of something. That truth is a gift, strength, quality or characteristic that makes that person who she is. And it has nothing to do with "what you did for me lately."
 

In our coaching practice, we are privileged to listen to deeply moving and inspiring stories about people from all walks of life that practiced acknowledgement in the form of "I see you." If you have ever had an experience where someone saw you for who you are and who you could be, you 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. Consider 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 may make you a tad uncomfortable because you may think that it is too personal. We beg to differ. And we do so because of the thousands of stories that tell us that workplace coaches—in the form of supervisors, mentors or co-workers—can and do play a significant role in "rekindling the spark." When we fail to see the people we work with for their unique gifts, strengths, qualities and characteristics, we simply miss a huge opportunity. That opportunity is about expressing the kind of respect that deepens relationships and the accountability that strengthens contribution.

Mastering Acknowledgement
Acknowledgement, at its core, is about paying attention and being attentive. And it is 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, thank 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. One organization bestows a toy "Bad News Burger" to an associate when he has done an especially good job of addressing a difficult customer situation.
  • 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 person on your team. Ask yourself what you "see" in them. Consider their unique gifts, strengths, qualities and characteristics. Consider also the words of Rusty Berkus who said: "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 participants in our sessions have heard from "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 MAGIC Acknowledgement and Engagement
When we master acknowledgement at every level, we put into practice the MAGIC principles of Respect for others and Accountability for what we do in a profound way. We create a shift in awareness, noticing, recognizing and seeing. We become models of "walk the talk" acknowledgement and MAGIC engagement with each other. And when this happens, others begin to notice us, to recognize what we contribute, and to see us for who are and for whom we are becoming.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
 
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