Building a culture of appreciation – Part 1

by Ruth Pearce

Research shows that appreciation – as measured by the VIA character strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence – is not used a great deal at work (Money, Hillenbrand & Camara, 2008). Appreciation is something that is often associated with nature, art, or skillful performances: we appreciate a great piece of music. It is this last meaning that is useful in workplace teams.

Subtly different than gratitude, which is about being thankful, appreciation is the strength that allows us to see and name the skills, values, and contributions of people around us (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). It is a strength that helps us to recognize the contribution of a colleague in a more comfortable manner. And yet we don’t use it much at work.

The strange thing is that it is not an uncommon top strength – some research suggests that 4 out of 10 of us rank it as a top strength (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Maybe we just don’t think to use it in the workplace. The same is often true of love – but that is another story!

Checking in on your sense of appreciation

When was the last time you took a stakeholder aside and thanked them for their contribution? Maybe you are good at thanking people – after all; research shows that Gratitude is a top strength for about 25% of us  (McGrath, 2017)

When was the last time you told them why you are thanking them? Explaining what it is specifically that they have brought to the table that was useful and why? Telling them in enough detail that they can repeat the behavior in the future and make it a permanent fixture in their project contributions. If it was recent, that is great. All too often, we go through the day on autopilot, taking in our stride the contributions from colleagues. We are all too quick to notice when someone is not giving us what we want or need on a project, but when people do what we think they are supposed to, we tend to take it for granted. We may give a quick “thanks” to someone who has delivered on something.

It starts with you

We do the same thing with ourselves. I often speak with groups and train people about character strengths. They are one of the triumvirate of factors that when working well together, put us in what Dr. Neal Mayerson, founder of the VIA Institute on Character calls, “the Power Zone.” The other two prongs are talents and skills. When we take our talents, build them with training and practice into skills and then add in our character strengths – those internal motivators that give us a sense of connection to what we are doing – this triangle of personal attributes creates our own capacity to excel. It is not unlike the talent triangle of leadership, strategic, and technical skills in project management.

The other topic we explore when I talk about is strengths-blindness. Research shows that 66% of us are strengths-blind, meaning that we don’t actually know what we bring to the table (Linley, 2008). Often, the attributes that others find most remarkable in us – and most beneficial – are ones that we don’t even recognize as special, unusual, or noteworthy. One of my coaching clients described her strengths of self-regulation (unusual as a high strength), prudence – the planning strength – and teamwork as boring! Yet her team described her as present, even-tempered, and easy to work with. Are they talking about the same strengths? Yes, they are!

Two steps to full appreciation:

Step 1: Appreciate the contribution you make.

You can take the VIA strengths assessment, or you can take a look at the list and just circle the top five that strike a chord with you. Now watch out for them each day.

For example, my top strengths are Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness, and Gratitude. In a typical day, they show up like this:

Appreciation – I go for a walk in the morning and take in the nature around me and appreciate the silliness of my dog. I look out for people going the extra mile and express my appreciation whenever I can (I also express my dismay when people don’t seem to be doing what they are meant to be doing!)

Bravery – I try to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. I write a post about a new topic or make a call to a new person.

Curiosity – I allow myself to read about new topics, explore new ideas, and get perspective from new people. I also have to manage my curiosity so that I don’t go down rabbit holes!

Step 2: Take note of your top strengths?

  • Make a note for the next seven days how each of your strengths shows up now that you know about them.
  • Which ones are a surprise?
  • Which ones do you sometimes overdo?
  • Which ones take a back seat at work? Where do they show up in greater presence and strength?

Next time in Building a Culture of Appreciation, we will explore expressing appreciation of others!



Character Strengths & Virtues 553-568

Linley, A. (2008), Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press

TECHNICAL REPORT The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults … (n.d.). Retrieved from VIA Assessment Suite Technical Report.pdf

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