Acknowledgment: What Happens When We Aren’t Heard?

I’ve been really into “acknowledgement” lately. I’m not talking about the section in my latest book but rather the small subtle ways that we tell people that yes, we hear them.

Here’s a couple of ways I’ve been thinking about acknowledgment:

Acknowledging Others

I would argue that it’s almost impossible to make ‘progress’ in a team or work through any type of conflict without listening to the other person and giving them some indication that you have “heard” them (do you hear me?). Dorie Clark, in her review of Amy Edmunson’s book Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, loosely refers to this as “airtime quality.” She writes, ‘Literally going around the room to ensure everyone has spoken up can introduce an element of ‘airtime quality.'” I like this concept, as I imagine loaded statements flying through a conference room as they land, and exploring whether they are met with adversity, respect or simply ignored.

In many cases, acknowledgement can be associated with doing a “good” job and thanking someone for what s/he has done for you. It can also come as an apology, expressing regret or remorse for something that has been done. Are you one of those people who always says, “I’m sorry” as you sidestep people in the streets? Do you immediately say “nice work” when you receive a draft communication before reading it to really know if it’s a job worth praising?  While it’s important to think about your natural instincts and habits of behavior, true acknowledgement demonstrates that you have reflected in a thoughtful way and are expressing what’s on your mind or in your heart, whether it’s perceived as positive or negative.

By recognizing the other person and their impact on you, there is greater space and opportunity for productive dialogue.

Acknowledging Yourself

Acknowledgement is often the elephant in the room, the silent intruder in your internal thought process. There is so much time spent trying to show others who you are. When building connections with other people, it’s important to do this to a degree, and it’s also helpful to be able to articulate what’s true for you… and not just what you want others to know about you. How do you demonstrate who you are based on what you think and feel?

A technique many coaches use with their clients is a “pause” practice. It’s taking a moment to notice what’s going on around you – what’s happening on the inside and what are you experiencing at a given moment? I am reminded of how I used to prepare for meetings – by not preparing. I enjoyed the spontaneity of conversations that had no structure, and later realized that I didn’t really know what my own opinion was. I hadn’t quite tested what was important to me and how I wanted to approach a topic. As I grew into being a Manager, I realized that I needed my own pause, or preparation, that would help me solidify my stance on an issue so that I could argue from a stronger vantage point. It was important to recognize myself in the conversation and it ultimately made for stronger dialogue.

How often do you “pause,” listen to yourself, and acknowledge what is true for you? And how often do you feel heard? Or seen for who you really are? Getting some acknowledgement from other people serves a purpose, and also the way in which you treat yourself helps inform your own viewpoint and see others.

In order for you to acknowledge other people, you have to start with yourself and speak the truth. When you acknowledge what is true for you and what you see in another person, the results can be transformational.

Special thanks to my Junie Nathani, whose conversation prompted me to write this a few weeks back and to Shelley Danner, who helped me restructure my thinking around acknowledgement.