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"Why do I only hear from management when I do something wrong?"

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

I’m a great admirer of Susan Scott and highly recommend her book, Fierce Conversations as it contains invaluable advice about dealing with people. Scott is head of training consultancy, Fierce Inc., and her trainers find that one of the most common employee complaints is lack of acknowledgment for good work. This article is by one of her master facilitators, Jennifer Brewer.

“They never notice anything I do well,” or “I only hear from management when I do something wrong.” It’s not uncommon to find a culture where people are holding their breath, bracing themselves against the next time they’ll be criticized for a mistake.

So, why is acknowledgment rarely consciously and consistently given? Here are some common responses:

“They already know – I shouldn’t have to tell them.”

“Pay is acknowledgment enough.”

“Too much acknowledgment slows down production – it takes too much time.”

“I’m not comfortable giving acknowledgment, and some people seem genuinely uncomfortable receiving compliments.”

“They’ll think I’m fishing for a reciprocal comment.”

“I don’t want to get too personal, want to keep this relationship professional.”

The above may be true. Employees may already know, although I don’t think you can tell someone what you appreciate about them too much!

Some people may feel uncomfortable giving and receiving appreciation – unfortunately, we’re not used to giving it.

The Gallup Organization has concluded that many people, especially the younger generations, would work for less money as long as they felt appreciated.

We can choose to stick to our reasons, and continue to have periodical performance reviews where we talk about business in – as Susan Scott puts it – “carefully parsed phrases, approved by legal counsel.” We can check “meets and/or exceeds expectations” or “needs improvement in this area”, etc.

But ask yourself, what is likely to happen if we retreat from giving sincere acknowledgment? People won’t feel truly valued and may do only just enough work to stay under the radar rather than bring their full enthusiasm, intelligence and creativity to the process.

High attrition rates result from resentment – “I’m going to go where I know I will be appreciated and truly part of the team.”

In today’s economic environment, the organizations who are creative and original will survive. And that means we need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate and energetic. Who genuinely want to be there, fully functioning, who feel valued.

You can go beyond the surface, to share appreciation authentically, without getting all gushy or taking a lot of time. It’s a simple formula. Your acknowledgment should include:

What – The observable behavior
Where – Where it happened
When – When it happened
Why – Why it was good, and what changed or got produced for the better

What you say doesn’t have to be very long. It can be as simple as:

“Thank you for getting that report back to me so quickly. With your information, I can now make a decision about the next step.”

“I have genuinely appreciated your participation in this meeting today. I believe your input helped us all understand the process better – what will and won’t work; and, as a result, our strategy will be stronger.”

When you give heartfelt, thoughtful admiration, people feel it; in your body language, your tone of voice. It’s not just word speak. And you can do this on the spur of the moment when you realize someone has done something well. You can also use this as an exercise to begin or end a meeting.

Fierce, Inc. recently did an appreciation exercise where everyone shared what they appreciated about each other. Participants shared that “the impact of this exercise is profound, and is a reminder that expressing our appreciation of others can transcend beyond our boundaries and expectations.” This is the real deal. When people are connected at this level, business takes care of itself.”


Source: Fierce newsletter 14 February 2009,

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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