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Everyone Wants to Be AcknowledgedCopied Copy failed
"No matter how old we become, we can never outgrow our need for acceptance and approval from others, no matter how successful we are."
（Stephen M. Pollan）※
Regardless of who we are, we all yearn for recognition and acceptance. This holds true even for our executive coaching clients, who are top executives driven by innovative goals and committed to making behavioral changes to achieve them. However, it is important to acknowledge that maintaining high energy levels constantly can be challenging. Uncertainty and difficulties are ever-present, whether it is navigating through tough situations or making decisions when the answers are unclear.
Our clients often express sentiments like:
"I'm giving it my all."
"You can't imagine how much effort I'm putting in."
"I understand I may face criticism, but it's part of my role."
In moments when the heart's voice briefly escapes through the cracks in the armor, I make it a point to convey the following message:
"I recognize that you have dedicated every waking moment, even while you slept, to prepare for this event."
"I understand that this outcome is a testament to your unwavering faith."
When someone responds with a mix of bashfulness and reassurance, acknowledging the truth in these words, they find the courage to once again confront their goals head-on.
In coaching, "acknowledgement" is the practice of recognizing and expressing awareness of an individual's behavior, accomplishments, personal growth, and even their mere existence. Rather than passing judgment on whether something is good or bad, the focus is on acknowledging and affirming the person's presence, actions, and more. This kind of engaged acknowledgement fosters a sense of safety and trust, which in turn accelerates the process of behavioral change for the individual.
Acknowledgement Is Indeed a Two-Way Form of Communication
After becoming a coach, I gained an appreciation for the importance of acknowledgement, but initially did not recognize the need for it in my own life. Due to my naturally stoic nature, I believed that my own inspiration and progress could be self-driven, especially with more youth or experience. However, I unintentionally projected these values onto my subordinates and clients. As I became more aware of the need for personal connections, I consciously started practicing acknowledgement but still felt uncomfortable both giving and receiving words of recognition.
During one of the coach training sessions I attended, there was an exercise that involved pairing up with a colleague. We were given 10 minutes to write 50 acknowledgements for our partner on a piece of paper, and then we had to share them with each other. My partner happened to be a colleague who was also a close friend in my personal life. Initially, I thought the exercise would be easy because I knew her well. However, when I started writing the acknowledgements, I found myself struggling to find the right words. While I genuinely liked and respected my partner, I could only come up with about 20 generic words like "kind" or "patient."
On the other hand, my partner in the exercise started writing genuine and thoughtful acknowledgements about me. She began by correctly writing my full name, which already showed attention to detail and respect. She acknowledged my work by saying, "The way she carried out her work was courteous and trustworthy." This reflected her perception of my professional conduct. She also appreciated my honesty and straightforwardness in communication, recognizing that my messages were sincere and clear. Furthermore, she found inspiration in my attitude of continuous self-learning, recognizing my dedication to personal growth. In total, she wrote 52 specific things about me, highlighting various aspects of my character, skills, and contributions. It was a truly uplifting experience to receive such heartfelt acknowledgements.
Although there were still 30 words I could not find a way to express during the training, I later shared 50 of them with her. As I thought about the acknowledgements I wanted to give her, I felt a sense of excitement envisioning the joy on her face when she heard those words. It created a genuine eagerness within me to continue working with the same team, knowing that we had built a foundation of mutual support and appreciation.
Acknowledgement has a profound impact not only on the person receiving it but also on the relationship between both individuals involved. It was during this exercise that I realized the true power of acknowledging one another.
In fact, I was so moved by the acknowledgements my partner wrote about me that I took a picture of the paper she gave me and saved it on my smartphone. Sometimes, I revisit those words and they bring a smile to my face. Knowing that she recognizes and acknowledges me in such a heartfelt way is a great source of motivation. It made me realize that, despite my previous belief that I did not need acknowledgement, receiving it can be truly empowering.
What Kind of Person Is He/She to Me?
When you consider the person you want to acknowledge, it can be challenging to find the right words to describe them. However, this exercise taught me that acknowledging someone is far more rewarding than finding faults in them. It encourages us to focus on the positive attributes and qualities that make that person unique. Even though I am still learning and growing in the area of acknowledgement, I have found it helpful to be genuinely interested in who the other person truly is and express that in words. I ask myself questions like, "What kind of person is he/she to me?" or "How do they contribute to the team?" This mindset allows me to appreciate and acknowledge their individuality and the value they bring to our interactions and shared goals.
"What kind of person is the CEO to you?" During one of our stakeholder interviews, I posed this question, and one executive's response struck a chord. They said, "The president is the one who wants to step on the gas pedal, but now he's putting on the brakes. I'm certain that this isn't his intention, but I can sense that he's doing it out of necessity for the future. He's never been one to shy away from challenges. That's why I want to stand by his side during tough times." The impact of this comment was profound. I will never forget the moment when the president's eyes welled up as I shared this feedback with my client.
When discussing acknowledgement, we often think of it as a communication flow from supervisors to subordinates. It is crucial for supervisors to provide approval and create a safe environment for open dialogue, fostering psychological safety in the workplace. However, to truly build a foundation of trust within an organization, we must go beyond one-way acknowledgement from the top. Two-way acknowledgement is essential, even for the CEO. Everyone desires recognition.
Consider the person standing before you. Who are they as an individual? What are their values, goals, and the changes they are striving for? Understanding these aspects can deepen our understanding of their role and foster a stronger connection. So, why not make this year a time to keep our antennae up, actively acknowledging one another in a timely manner? Let's embrace the practice of acknowledging those around us, building a culture of mutual recognition and appreciation. By doing so, we can cultivate an environment where trust and collaboration thrive.
※ Stephen M. Pollan
Living in New York, USA. After working as a real estate developer, venture capitalist, banker, and university lecturer, he is now an attorney, financial advisor, life coach, and author, including three national bestsellers.
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