NOTE: Due to a hectic work schedule since September, requiring 25 days per month travelling — mostly with your companies ;o) — I missed sending last month’s Top Leadership blogs. I sincerely apologize for this lapse and I promise it will not happen again. GBL
As I travel from country to country I hear the same plaintive cry from middle management and the base: “They don’t give a rip about me. It’s all about my performance. If I meet my goals, they’re happy. If I don’t, I’m in big trouble.”
This has given way to a lot of cynicism when we talk about appreciative inquiry and the importance of positive communication. In my opinion, the lack of an appreciative mindset and/or the lack of congruence and genuineness in delivering it, are the two biggest barriers to positive workplace relationships. Leaders, however, fear giving recognition and affirmation thinking it will lull their people into complacency, a completely disproved hypothesis. Or when they do give it due to pressure from top management or us consultants, it may be given insincerely.
But the biggest challenge is when the affirmation and appreciation are given sincerely but perceived as false or hypocritical. These perceptions can have other explanations and the challenge is how to overcome perceived inauthenticity. You can never “prove” your authentic appreciation of someone but there are behaviors which generally assure the perception of sincerity:
- Only communicate appreciation when it is true: It is not helpful to try to “fake it.” People have excellent “radar” for insincere communication.
- Acknowledge past omissions: You can use statements like, “I know I haven’t communicated much (if any) appreciation to you in the past…” or “I know we’ve had our conflicts and differences in the past…” and even, “I suspect you may think I’m saying this just because we’ve had the training on communicating appreciation…”
- Affirm both the person and the behavior: The more specific you can be about what the person does and the characteristic or quality you value, the greater probability that you’ll be viewed as honest.
- Don’t focus solely on performance or on situations that benefit you directly: A nice way to communicate authentic communication is to identify non-work related skills that are positive (for example, their cheerfulness or how they treat others kindly).
- Communicate appreciation consistently over time: If you only occasionally communicate appreciation, the likelihood of being perceived as being genuine is low. Similarly, if you only communicate positive messages in front of others, that also will lead to a perception of your doing the actions just “for show.”I believe the only true way to get past other’s perceptions of whether our actions or statements are not “real” is to communicate them repeatedly over long periods of time (months) and potentially in different ways and different settings.