Retraining your brain to notice and share the good stuff.
Q: I know people like to be appreciated, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m kind of a negative person and have an easier time seeing problems and flaws. And when I do try to recognize someone, it feels awkward and stilted. How can I get better at this?
A: You’re right that appreciation is foundational to employee engagement and happiness, and a basic lubricant for productive work relationships. But we’ve all been the victim of, perpetrator of, or witness to, bad appreciation: vague, mistimed, blatantly insincere, or all three at once. So hooray you for wanting to do it better.
Most of our brains are good at finding the problems and challenges in our work. Finding those problems and fixing them is part of what many of us get paid to do. But to become good at authentic, effective appreciation we have to train the brain to also notice the good stuff.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is with a simple work-related gratitude practice. Simply set aside a few minutes each day to write down three things at work that you are grateful for. Then ask yourself: Who was behind that thing? It could be a colleague who helped you out, someone who kept things working from behind the scenes, or a higher-level decision-maker who designed a space/benefit/experience you appreciate.
Consciously scanning your work life for things to be grateful for activates the “what’s good now” neuropathway. If you do this daily, you will start to grow new synapses or connections along this pathway, making it faster and easier for your brain to access. If you keep up this practice for a few weeks, you start to grow new neurons along this pathway, making it even easier for your brain and you will start to find these good things come to you more easily and more naturally.
Here are some other ideas for finding more to appreciate:
Once you’ve noticed something to appreciate, you need to deliver that appreciation well. Empty expressions of “thank you” and “good job” when not shared sincerely or tied to specifics don’t help anyone feel valued. Humans are great BS detectors. We know when people are just saying positive words because they think they are supposed to or to get us to do more work. Effective appreciation requires:
This may feel like learning a new language at first: awkward and stilted and marginally effective. But don’t worry about getting it perfect. As Nike exhorts us, “Just do it.” Try some things, experiment, adapt, and try again. Even mediocrely delivered praise is better than none.