The art of appreciation – 7 minute read

by | May 6, 2021

The secret sauce to creating an inspiring workplace culture.

Neuroscience tells us, similar to our fingerprints, that no two brains are the same. Every single person on this planet is the result of tens of thousands of years of evolution and thousands of their ancestors’ DNA. Our unique character, childhood and life experiences also greatly influence who we are and our behaviour in any given moment.

Working as a leadership and team coach, it’s fascinating to witness how our biased brains love to shortcut. A common theme I’ve come across is when leaders and high performing, senior team members approach their colleagues with the thinking, ‘they should do it like me’ and ‘they should think like me’, and ‘they should be better’. This can set these leaders up for disappointment and often results in team members feeling a lack of appreciation with lower morale.

Listen, I’m all for growth, making improvements and holding each other accountable and to a high standard. I’m also all about personal and professional development and working towards mastery. I get that performance management and accountability conversations are par for the course when working with consistently under performing team members, but more often than not, I see a lack of appreciation from leaders bringing out the worst in team members and contributing to perpetuating poor performance.

If we don’t start from the position of being whole and appreciating ourselves and each other, then we are coming from deficiency. That’s where this experience of feeling like we’re on a hamster wheel comes from. It can contribute to team members feeling exhausted and burnt out.

As humans, we have basic social needs and preferences. Some of these needs include, to be seen and heard, and to feel appreciated and valued. In my personal and professional experience, this is the case regardless of a person’s current level of self-esteem.

It makes it challenging to feel appreciated and valued, when the people we work with don’t appreciate us as we are, and want us to be another way entirely.

We can get so busy and transactional in our everyday interactions, that we don’t stop and smell the roses and see the beautiful flowers (humans) around us every day.

People amaze me. In coaching sessions and team sessions, I’m often touched when I hear my clients share their stories of challenge and triumph. Many have stories of survival, and of making lemonade out of the lemons they were given. I’m amazed how some manage to get out of bed every day, and show up with passion for their work and are highly functional and doing incredible things with their businesses and teams. Many are doing it while juggling family life and raising young children too. I often leave coaching sessions thinking, ‘this human is a miracle’. How they didn’t end up going down the road of self destruction after they were so neglected and traumatised in their early years, I don’t know. And this is true for so many. We need to remind ourselves regularly, as the saying goes, to “Be kind, you never know what someone is going through”. And I will add to that, or ‘what someone has been through.’

When we practice appreciating these miraculous humans around us and approaching people with more empathy and compassion, thanks to mirror neurons, they feel it. They feel you’re not emanating thoughts of, ‘you should be different/better’. If they get that you are thinking, ‘I like you just the way you are.’ or similar, they will likely experience more relaxation in their nervous system, and from there, their brains work better. You will never see your team perform at their peak consistently when they don’t feel appreciated or valued. Worse still, as I have seen in too many teams, is when they are walking around on egg shells and are not provided with psychological safety because they are being consistently criticised by their leaders.

So if after reading this you walk away with one tip for your leadership and team, it’s this; practice appreciation.

Sounds simple and easy, right? If it were easy, we could all do it, all the time, but the reason it’s challenging is because our brains have a strong negativity bias. The latest neuroscience research shows us there is a lot more neural real estate dedicated to ‘what’s wrong’ and ‘what’s not working’ that could become a threat and threaten our way of being and survival. It can feel quite natural to spend a lot of time focussing on what is wrong environmentally and socially to try and mitigate these threats. So much so that it is often an ingrained habit to think this way. If you are not used to moving your attention to focus on what to appreciate, it can feel somewhat alien.

So how can we move our attention from what ‘they’re doing wrong’ to ‘what I appreciate about this person?’ Well, we need to engage the most evolved part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, otherwise known as our executive function. This part of our brain is responsible for many complex processes, including decision making and impulse control. It can also help us focus our attention on what we can appreciate in our fellow colleagues and team members. In relation to this, here are 3 things we can do:

1. Decision making. Make the decision to intentionally look out for the good and become more aware of all the things your team members are regularly doing to support you and the organisation.

2. Impulse control. Manage your own reactivity and triggers. Self reflection and having a trusted advisor who can give you reality check will help you recognise and get perspective around what you think someone has ‘done wrong’ before reacting too harshly.

3. Focus your attention. Spend more time focussing your attention on appreciation and gratitude for your team and all they do.

Yes, this new mental habit will take practice, but it’s a practice that will help your team go from being a thorn in your side to a beautiful bed of roses.

To learn more about leadership skills that will enable you to enjoy your role more and to create an inspiring workplace culture, book your preferred Leadership coaching package or schedule your FREE 20 minute coaching conversation to discuss your options.

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