What stops us from appreciating others?

I was making my son’s bed this morning. His room is a poster picture of a teenager’s room; mostly unkempt and messy. I have been struggling to get him to bring some order to his room for couple of years now. I cannot boast much success in this aspect. However, over the last week or so, I found his study table clean and uncluttered. I kept watching all the while, never said a word. At last, this morning I praised his attempt to keep his table clean. I was about to add another statement to my appreciation, “or is it that you are not been studying at all?” Fortunately, I held myself back.

On my way to work, I started reflecting on my behavior: “Why did I wait for a week before appreciating the efforts put in by my son?” “Why was I about to add that hurtful sentence which would have completely negated the appreciation?”

Such behavior is not uncommon at workplace either. What drives such behavior in us?

What stops us from appreciating immediately? I can think of a few reasons: We feel that the person should anyway have done the work; it’s part of his role. Why should we appreciate someone for doing what he is supposed to do? We start confusing appreciation with reward. In my mind, it was my son’s responsibility to keep his room clean. Thus it did not deserve any appreciation. Similar behavior is seen at workplace as well. A subordinate puts in lot of effort and completes a piece of work on time and as per quality. Manager does not feel the need to appreciate; after all, the work is a part of the subordinate’s KRA. So, what’s the big deal?

Second question is about the delay in appreciation. If I reflect, the first few days that I saw my son’s table clean, I was not sure if I should acknowledge his efforts right away. I wanted to wait and watch; see if he continues to keep it clean. I probably wanted to appreciate only and only if he sustained in his efforts. What’s the point in waiting? Why didn’t I appreciate him on Day 1? He may have started cleaning other parts of his room. Was I fearful that he will stop his efforts and get back to his usual self if I praised him right away? Similar behavior is visible in organizations. A manager waits for 3-4 months before praising his employee. He wants to praise only after the project is successfully completed. He is apprehensive that if he praises early success, the employee may slacken his efforts.

Lastly, it’s about not giving unconditional praise. I appreciated my son’s efforts, but I wanted to temper it with something that will reduce its impact. Is it because I was afraid that success will get into his head?  Or has the sandwich feedback approach (clubbing positive with negative feedback) got so much ingrained in me? In my opinion, sandwich feedback is probably the worst way to give feedback – both positive and negative feedback lose their impact. In fact, it leaves the receiver of feedback completely confused.

If we think logically, all the three points are baseless. It may be someone’s responsibility to carry out a piece of work. But by appreciating good work done and small successes, we will only motivate the person to do better. And much more! Our fears that the person would get lazy and slacken his efforts are completely baseless. It’s up to us to overcome our fears and biases related to appreciation. And embrace culture of appreciation without inhibition!

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