Part 2 – How to build a culture of appreciation

by Ruth Pearce

If your company is looking for ways to build a culture of appreciation, look no further. In my last post, I advocated for looking for things to appreciate in yourself, to practice recognizing and acknowledging those traits that you share with others but express them in ways that are uniquely you. In this post, I will dig deeper into the strength of appreciation and then suggest ways to use appreciation to the benefit of your team. Building a culture of appreciation builds rapport, a sense of inclusion and well-being for you and for those around you, and you don’t need to be in charge to help make it happen. 

As a reminder, appreciation of beauty and excellence (a.k.a. appreciation) is seeing the best in people and the things around us!

 Research shows that appreciation has three components.

  1. Appreciating natural beauty – experiencing awe and wonder
  2. Appreciation of skill and talent – experiencing admiration
  3. Appreciation of virtue and good deeds by others – experiencing elevation and inspiration

Dacher Keltner, the resident expert on the awe aspect of appreciation at the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley, points to research that shows that spending one minute looking up at the trees make us more likely to help someone in need than spending one minute looking at tall buildings (Keltner, 2016). He tells us that awe is an evolutionary phenomenon that is good for our minds, bodies, and, maybe most importantly, our social connections. What could be more helpful to a team?

What about the other components of appreciation? As I mentioned last time, research shows that appreciation is not used a great deal at work even though many of us rank it high in our strengths profiles (Money, Hillenbrand, & Camara, 2008). It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. Also, it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.

Obstacles to using our appreciation at work

In working with clients who have discovered this strength among their top five, I have often heard them lament, “I never thought of that as a strength!” One young woman (character strength of appreciation #1) told a group coaching session that she regularly takes walks in the local park to clear her head, improve her mood, and marvel at nature all around her. It helps her feel more connected to her team and to the purpose of the project. She was astonished to find that we are not all moved the same way.

Another member of the same group (character strength of appreciation #3) mentioned how much they love to see someone at the top of their game – whether that be a musician, a scientist, a sportsperson, or… a work colleague nailing some task or a new skill. When asked whether they ever tell their colleague how much they appreciate them, the answer came back, “No, they know already what they have accomplished right? They don’t want to hear it from me!”

It is common to think that our positive opinion will not be valued, and yet experience and research says it is not so. For example, fundraisers, who felt appreciated raised 50% more than those who just came to work and did their job as normal (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). 

Managers who recognize, acknowledge, and help cultivate the character strengths of their teams enjoy more highly engaged teams, healthier teams, and less turnover than managers who don’t (Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Boiman-Meshita, 2016) (Gallup, 2019).

Expressing appreciation to people at work 

Appreciation is more than just saying, “thank you.” That is what makes it subtly different than gratitude – which gets lots of positive press by the way! It is about seeing the whole person, their strengths, their positive habits, and giving them specific and personal appreciation. But how do you do that?

My favorite way is using character strengths. Each of us has all 24, which is great because (a) everyone expresses all of them at one time or another, and (b) we cannot go wrong! Expressing appreciation for the character strength(s) people demonstrate is something I do often. I have never had anyone say, “What? You think I am kind? I don’t think so!” or, “You think I used my judgment during that meeting? Nope! I just tossed a coin.” Mostly people beam with pleasure, or they share a story with me of why that behavior is important to them. Here are some steps to help your company build a culture of appreciation. 

Four steps to full workplace appreciation: 

Step 1: observe strengths in other people any time you can. You can strengths spot during movies, during family dinner, while watching sports on TV. Use the list below and practice until you feel brave enough to share what you see with someone else. 

VIA Character Strengths and Virtues | PMWorld 360 Magazine

Step 2: Bring the list of strengths to a meeting at work. Instead of checking your messages on your smartphone under the table, hoping no one will notice, keep the list of strengths with you, and listen to each speaker. Highlight the strengths you hear. Do this for a few days until you get comfortable. Don’t worry about being “right”!

Step 3: After the meeting is over, choose one person and tell them specifically what you saw and why you appreciate it. For example, “I really noticed you using judgment as you weighed the options for our next steps on the project. It really helped us sort through everything and come to a good decision.” Or, “I really loved how you turned the mood around with your sense of hope! You helped everyone feel that this is possible, and we were able to figure out actions to get us where we need to be.”

Step 4: Afterwards take note of (a) what their reaction was (b) how you felt.

Some common reactions from those you appreciate are:

  1. Wow, thank you for seeing that! I was really trying to _________
  2. Wow, I have never thought of that as a strength of mine. It feels good to think someone saw that in me.
  3. I appreciate that, and I appreciate the way you ________ (they provide positive feedback too).

Step 5: Do this for a few days and see what happens. Ripple effect anyone?


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