Degrading Appreciation

Isn't is interesting how great you feel when someone you care about offers a sign of appreciation? Isn't is depressing how easy it is for someone to cheapen that feeling by making the appreciation seem fake, or by communicating it ineffectively?

At Consultants Camp last week, I was able to witness some long time friends appreciate one another in many ways. As we talked about the effectiveness of appreciation, I noted a couple of interesting dynamics about appreciation, and the subtle ways we can reduce it.

Appreciation degrades the less personal it is.
Look at the following progression. Notice the use of pronouns and Doug's name. Michael Dedolph gave the group these examples using Doug Hoffman as his example.

  • "I appreciate you..."

  • "I appreciate Doug..."

  • "We appreciate Doug..."

  • "I wanted to thank all of you..."

The further down the list we move, the less personal the appreciation becomes. In the first one, it's me talking to you. In the second one, it's me talking about you (less powerful then me talking to you). In the third, it's no one talking about you ("we" is vacuous - it implies that no single person appreciates you, and thus no one appreciates you). And in the fourth example, it's me talking to no one ("all of you" is vacuous - it shows value for no one in particular, and thus no one).

Appreciate degrades as distance of the speaker increases.
Look at the following progression. This time, notice the distance of the speaker or the medium of communication.

  • I'm standing in front of you, face to face.

  • I'm standing next to you, perpendicular to you.

  • I'm across the room.

  • I'm on the phone.

  • I send a hand written note.

  • I send an email to you.

  • I send an email to a group.

The first example is the most powerful - face to face communication. The second example is what Rick Brenner called the classic "man stance"; this way two men don't have to stand face to face but can still communicate effectively. Still effective, but less effective then standing face to face.

Now, imagine how you feel when someone across the room says something in appreciation. Does it feel the same as when they stand right next to you? For me it doesn't. As soon as there is a physical separation between me and the speaker, I start to wonder if they are sincere (unless I'm already close with the speaker and know better). I've encountered this suspicion with past managers when they attempted to offer appreciation at meetings - it appears forced.

After that the medium changes to the phone. This can still be effective, but it's less effective then when you are actually looking at someone and have a physical connection. We then move away from spoken communication entirely and enter the shady world of written appreciation. Now, many times I like hand written notes of appreciation, except when they are formulaic, like a thank you for a wedding gift. You know 300 other people got a similar card, social convention dictates that you get one.

Now this raises another dynamic, and that is that other people appreciate things differently. My wife gets upset if she doesn't get the thank you for the wedding gift. She's aware of it while I'm not. To her, it says something else. Which shows that these dynamics apply to each person differently. While I may be aware of how I like to receive appreciation, I need to be aware that others need to be appreciated in their own way, not mine.

When's the last time you told someone you appreciate them for something they've done or for just being the person that they are?
I'm an idiotMichael Kelly