‘Appreciate’ – definition: to recognize the full worth/ be grateful for (something).


The December Holiday Season is, for many, a time of celebration – of family, friends, faith and spirituality. With dinners, parties, gifts and traditions, there are many ways that we share good feelings with those important to us and let them know how much they are appreciated.

Then all too often it is back to business as usual come January.

What if this were not just a once a year phenomenon? What happens if we can continue to appreciate each other throughout the year?

In fact, emotionally intelligent relationships and workplaces know that appreciation and positivity are not just things to bring out once a year and then put back in the box with the rest of the ornaments and decorations. They are intentional about showing authentic appreciation regularly and consistently.

Some of you may already be thinking, “We have work to do and we can’t just view things through rose colored glasses!” and that would be correct. In fact, healthy relationships and workplaces need conflict to resolve their differences. Make no mistake, without conflict, there are consequences. In the book ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, Patrick Lencioni cites what he calls “artificial harmony” as one of the team dysfunctions when there is ‘fear of conflict’. And few would disagree that the ‘elephants in the room’ start to pile up and things can get crowded, so much so that results begin to suffer. We can’t ignore the negative and focus only on the positive.

Emotional intelligence and the research of Dr. John Gottman can help us find clarity to reconcile appreciation and conflict. As one of the most influential researchers in Relationship Science, Dr. Gottman developed foundational insight using Emotional Intelligence to identify what makes the difference between relationships that work, and that last, versus ones that will ultimately fail. In his book ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell famously recounts Dr. Gottman’s ability to watch an hour video of a couple’s communication and predict, with 94% accuracy whether that couple would still be together in 15 years! When Gladwell tried this, the best he could do was 50%. Clearly Gottman was able to identify something important with a sound, empirical basis.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review (Dec. 2007), Dr. Gottman discussed how his work with relationships is applicable to the workplace. After all, we ARE in relationships with our co-workers, clients and customers. In fact many may spend more time quantitatively with co-workers than their partner or family. So it is really not a surprise that these findings are relevant at work. But what are these key findings and how does Emotional Intelligence apply?

Here’s the secret – if you remember one thing from this article, remember this – 5:1.

This is the key ratio that determines the success and sustainability of a relationship. And this is what busts the ‘rose colored glasses’ view of appreciation and other forms of positivity too often considered ‘soft’. It does so by including negativity or conflict as an essential component of relating. But the key is the balance of positivity to negativity – you need 5 positives to balance 1 negative.

What happens when a manager ignores that principle of balance? It produces this finding by the Gallup Organization (that is quoted in The Institute for Health andHuman Potential’s (IHHP) ownE.I. 360™) –

“People leave managers not companies.”

In other words, it is the failure of that relationship that most often causes people to leave.

There is a better Managerial Operating System, one that includes sincere, intentional appreciation of the efforts that people make at work. The two words “I appreciate…” when used authentically and in a meaningful time span pay more dividends than many realize and in fact can be more motivating than money.

“Emotional sources of motivation are more powerful, and they are best conveyed informally in an organization through the respect of peers, the admiration of subordinates, the approval of one’s personal network and community…” – Katzenbach and Khan (Forbes.com – ‘Money is not the best motivator’)

Think of it in these terms – positivity is like the currency of a relationship. And every relationship has a bank account. The relative deposits of positivity versus the withdrawals of negativity will determine the ‘balance’ in that account. Just like a real bank account, there are consequences to being overdrawn. With a debit balance, people experience more stress, managers see more of their time being taken up trying to deal with the negative consequences of unresolved or poorly handled conflict and there is a pattern of high staff turnover. No company these days can afford to lose their best and brightest. And retraining takes time and resources that can be like going back to ‘square one’ in terms of productivity.

Another important factor is the type or nature of conflict. For this article, we will focus on balancing 5:1 by being intentional with authentic appreciation.

Participants in our Emotional Intelligence for Personal Leadership training are familiar with the ‘Value Card’ exercise where they sort what qualities and effort they give when they experience different levels of feeling valued or appreciated. The best things are inevitably in the ‘third pile’ when someone feels truly valued and appreciated. Using our banking analogy, this reflects a healthy relationship bank account balance! This is consistent with research from the American Psychological Association (APA) finding that “feeling valued is a key indicator of job performance. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be engaged in their work and feel satisfied and motivated.”

Giving balanced feedback is an important skill for the emotionally intelligent manager. We need to find what people do right and tell them, not just what is wrong, lacking or in need of improvement. And how that is communicated is important. Neuroscientist David Rock cites that people respond well to criticism 1 time out of 13! But what is all too prevalent in the feedback given in many companies? An imbalance of criticism or a default toward negativity delivered without a balance of positivity. We now know that this is not just theory but proven by research – a negativity imbalance does not create collaborative relationships that last nor is it the most effective way to change behavior. (For further reading on the latter, see ‘Quiet Leadership’ by David Rock.)

A year-round strategy to create collaboration in relationships and benefit from the resulting synergy includes healthy amounts of simple, authentic appreciation. This will help to create emotional engagement shown to be 4X more powerful than rational (or cognitive) engagement. This is what will help you to get that ‘third pile’ of the ‘best stuff’ from others. When people have a compelling ‘why’ to go to work that includes positivity and feeling valued, you will be tapping into an emotional reservoir that will unleash more effort and contribution. In these times of challenging economies, cutbacks and increased efficiencies, who wouldn’t want to tap into a reservoir like that? And it doesn’t have to cost you anything other than perhaps a shift in your perspective – looking to find people ‘right’ balanced with constructive feedback and direction.

I will repeat – it doesn’t cost anything other than a shift in your perspective.

If you currently have a negativity bias, you can learn to shift that to be more balanced. You will still be able to be effective and deal with challenges. The benefit will be getting results with more engagement and less interference. And the results will last longer because people will want to stay rather than leave.

Our ‘why’ at IHHP is to help people to be their best when it matters most. These skills are learnable and that is how we can help. One of the things that participants appreciate most about IHHP Training and Coaching in Emotional Intelligence is that they benefit both at work and at home. Taking the time to authentically appreciate others will pay dividends in healthier, happier and more successful relationships. Now you know this secret – all you have to do is appreciate it and use it!