Appreciation: The Heart and Soul of the Team

One of the most overlooked areas of health is in the work place. We spend more than half of our lives in the work place interacting with what are usually the most important people in our lives.

"Good work, Bob."
"It wasn't that good"
"Yes it was. The way you handled the situation was like a master."
"Look, Jim, it was only luck. If you ever did anything right you wouldn't think it was such a big deal."

Some people seem to have a talent for making every situation stressful. Jim offered praise to his team mate Bob and Bob reacted with fear. He felt threatened and instinctively tried to drive away the source of his discomfort, Jim's appreciation.

Appreciation is the ability to value someone or something for their positive aspects. Accepting and expressing appreciation are the easiest team-building skills to learn and may be the most powerful. When appreciation is expressed between team members, team commitment increases.

Members of strong teams help each other feel good about themselves. Expressing appreciation for each other is one way of doing this. The more we're appreciated the better our self-images and self-esteem becomes. We're unable to treat anyone better than we treat ourselves. We're unable to feel better about others than we feel about ourselves. Being appreciated is the only source of increased self-esteem.

How we feel about ourselves determines our attitudes. Attitudes are valuative stances toward people, events, issues and objects based on feelings, beliefs and personal judgments. Attitudes may be favorable or unfavorable. Bob's attitude toward appreciation is unfavorable. Attitudes are the only thing we always have the ability to change.

Take some time to review a situation where things went really well for you. Notice your attitude. Remember a situation where things went poorly for you. Compare the attitude or stance that you took in each situation. If you approached the good situation with the attitude you took with the poor situation, how would things have been different? If you approached the poor situation with the attitude you used in the situation where things went well, how would this have changed things?

Expressing Appreciation

Appreciation can be expressed in many ways. You can appreciate yourself. Think of something you would like more appreciation for. Write yourself a letter or card. Tell yourself that you did a great job or that you are a good person. Give yourself a written pat on the back. Write some of your best qualities on a card or piece of paper. Leave it where you'll see it often. Add to it when you think of another good quality you have. Buy yourself a little treat. Record a short message on your answering machine, or voice mail, or send yourself an appreciative E-mail telling yourself something good about you or something good you've done. A small self-indulgence says, "I value and appreciate you."

You can express appreciation of others in non-verbal ways. Many people find it difficult to tell others they appreciate them. Telling others that you appreciate them in non-verbal ways makes it easier to learn to verbally praise people. You can bring them a cup of coffee or a flower. Send an appreciative note or card.

Show teammates that you trust them by allowing them to be responsible for what they're responsible for. Don't do their jobs for them. Don't tell them how to do their jobs. Ask their advice and take it. Give them credit for their strengths. Don't demand perfection. Support continual improvement. Praise small success. View mistakes as learning opportunities not disaster.

The more immediate the praise the more effective it is. You don't want to hear about how well you did last year. You want to know that you're doing well now. If you can't say, "Good work," send a note or E-mail to fellow team members. Just say, "Good job," or "Great idea," or "I like the way you did that."

A practice that can increase team commitment is taking a little team time to appreciate the members. Set aside a certain time every week for team appreciation. Share only positive thoughts, feelings and desires. Complaining or using this time to settle differences is not allowed.

Share feelings of anger, joy, excitement, pleasure, irritation or hurt. Agree that whatever is said is confidential. What members say is not evaluated or judged; only listened to. Speak only for yourself; "I think . . .," "I feel . . .," "I want . . .," "I like . . .." Don't use: "You . . ," "He/She . . .," "People . . .," or "They . . .." Remember to give lots of positive feedback.

This is not a time for criticism. Have some sort of time-out rule so a member may stop a conversation, with no judgment or questions asked, if the conversation is making him/her uncomfortable.

On some occasions you may want to take turns appreciating team members individually. Each team member says something positive about a positive attribute or action of the person being appreciated. Rotate until all members have been associate of the week. Some of the benefits of expressing appreciation are:

  • Sexual harassment complaints are reduced.
  • The self-esteem of team members is constantly improved, improving team productivity and quality of work.
  • Appreciation builds the foundation for exceptional teamwork and team relationships.
  • Creativity is increased as team members feel free to express themselves and accept their own creative talents.
  • All aspects of the team functions are improved.
  • Commitment increases.

Some of the consequences of not expressing appreciation include:

  • Lack of trust and cohesion amongst team members.
  • No team identity or loyalty.
  • Stifled creativity.
  • Decreased productivity.
  • Lack of innovation.
  • Inability to respond to changing circumstances.
  • Mediocrity.
  • Team time and energy wasted on power struggles.
  • Inability to compete.
  • Lack of commitment.

An attitude of appreciation builds trust and commitment within the team. However appreciation is expressed it contributes to a feeling of well being and personal satisfaction. When a team has a solid commitment and good communication skills expressing appreciation follows naturally.

Some psychologists believe that the most important human need is to be appreciated. Team members meet this need by encouraging and building up each other through positive strokes. Positive strokes build self-value. The quality of teamwork is dependent on the self-value of the team members.

Before you're able to develop a positive self-image you must experience a sense of belonging and of being valued. Your only source for improving self-image and self-appreciation is through human interaction. Your self-images, and therefor your attitudes, are determined by how you are treated in the world. A person who is revered feels better about himself than a person who is constantly humiliated. A person who is treated well and feels valued will treat others well and make them feel valued. You can act only according to what you have experienced. If you've never experienced a person being treated with respect, how would you know how to treat yourself or anyone else respectfully?

Before you can express appreciation you must find valid reasons for appreciating. Think of the things you'd like to be appreciated for. You'll probably only find positive things you feel are reasons for appreciation. People don't want to be appreciated for what they perceive as negative. A person who wants praise for destructive or negative aspects is a person with very poor self-esteem. It's as if they're saying, "I don't have any really good traits. The best part of me is that I can drink ten gallons of beer without vomiting. If that's the best I can be, I'll accept appreciation for it." Everyone has positive attributes. Offer appreciation for positive attributes and actions using positive words.

Showing appreciation by accenting the positive conveys respect. Some of us grew up in families where appreciation was shown in only back-handed ways. In one family, "You didn't screw up too much this time," may seem like high praise. In another family this statement would be very hurtful. Restated as, "You did good," makes it understandable to everyone that you're praising them. Positive feedback causes positive reactions, bringing positive attitudes, followed by positive action.

Expressing appreciation in ways they understand lets your teammates know you care. Appreciation is constantly expressed amongst members of effective teams. Letting fellow members know they're appreciated is a daily occurrence. Team members need to know that they're valued .

Appreciation must be sincere. Insincere praise feels artificial and destroys trust. We all have built-in insincerity detectors, and even if our need to be acknowledged causes us to ignore our inner warnings, eventually we will listen to them.

Appreciation on the job must be free of sexual intent. What one person sees as flattery another may perceive as sexual harassment. If you tell Fred he has a nice body, he may be thrilled by the compliment. If you tell Carol she has a nice body you'll probably get a different reaction. Those who have been sexually abused may find sexual connotations in innocent remarks and situations. If your attitude expresses a non-sexual intent and you're consistent and patient, distrust will change to deep trust and respect. Work is not a proper place for sexual relationships unless you're in that type of business.

Accepting Appreciation

Receiving appreciation is harder than expressing appreciation because most people are suspicious of praise. It brings images of being led into a situation where they'll be taken advantage of. If appreciation isn't accepted, the giver may be offended and refuse to offer further praise. In the above example, unless Jim is a person of incredible patience, he will probably never offer appreciation to Bob again.

Your self-image depends on your ability to accept appreciation. By refusing the nourishment of appreciation you are in essence saying, "I don't deserve to be appreciated." As difficult as it may be at first, learn to simply say, "Thank you," when offered a compliment.

Resist the temptation to say "Thank you, but." This diminishes the compliment and says, "I don't deserve your praise, but thank you for pitying me." Both you and the appreciator are diminished.

When you're comfortable enough with receiving appreciation you may want to respond by expressing appreciation in return. You might say something like, "Thank you. That was a nice thing for you to say." Or, "Thank you, I appreciate that and I appreciate you."

Your beliefs and emotions related to giving and receiving appreciation might surprise you. You may find that innocent expressions of appreciation trigger unfavorable or even hostile reactions. You may find hidden agendas attached to expressing appreciation.

Written by Madison Holloway, Ph.D


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