Part 7: Acknowledge the People in Your Life… and Watch Relationships Transform
There's an epidemic lurking throughout society that's debilitating many people and I'm not talking about Vitamin D deficiency: We've forgotten to let others know when we really get them. I know that doesn't sound like much, but one of the greatest desires of the human heart is to feel seen and be known.
You know how it is. We're very busy, whizzing through our day, checking things off our "to do" lists. We're all grateful for the people in our lives, but along the way, we can miss really noticing them and lose out on relationship and connection.
When was the last time you really acknowledged someone? I'm not talking about praise. Praise highlights what someone does or the opinion of or the impact on the person giving the praise. Acknowledging someone, on the other hand, is about noticing who they are -- seeing the truth of them and speaking what you see. So, praise might be: "Good job on the presentation, Janet. I'm impressed!" Acknowledging is: "Janet, your tenaciousness really stood out in that presentation." It's a nuance, but an important one: It says, I see who you are -- not what you did.
Relationships can be challenging partly because we're not in the habit of doing things that connect us, like giving acknowledgements. CTI's business is teaching people more effective ways to relate to each other and we think acknowledgement is one of the most critical relational skills there is.
There's nothing wrong with praise -- praise on! But cultivate some acknowledgement while you're at it. Acknowledgement recognizes the recipient's character. You're celebrating their inner strength, and that often helps them see strength they may dismiss or don't recognize at all in themselves.
When you give an acknowledgement, notice how it is received. It feels different than praise. If you're sincere and on target, your startled recipient might be quite moved, since it's rare for people to be seen and recognized in this way. Acknowledgement helps us see a larger view of ourselves.
And it goes both ways. When I stop what I'm doing and find something to celebrate or appreciate about someone else, I'm nourished by that, too, because it expands my sense of myself. If I can see it in you, I can recognize those same qualities in me, so it connects me to my own humanity.
We tend to be poor at giving and receiving acknowledgements because it's so intimate and thus uncomfortable -- you have to be willing to be somewhat vulnerable to do it well. We want to back away from the intimacy but really being seen by others is what we most long for. People also avoid it because it doesn't feel real or seems too sticky sweet since they're not used to it.
Acknowledgement isn't always about seeing something positive, either. It's just about telling the truth -- saying what is along the spectrum of human experience: "It sounds like you're really overwhelmed and feeling swamped. That must be hard."
A senior executive in my company, new to his position, sent out an email to our faculty about a decision we had made that negatively affected their income. It was not as sensitively stated as it should have been and the faculty was up in arms. So, I acknowledged him: "You made a mistake. You blew it. And I bet that feels lonely for you to be a leader that makes decisions and gets judged for it." He was so relieved that someone saw his blunder and he didn't have to suffer alone. Then we talked about how he'd repair the damage and I told him I loved him. (I can do that in my company!) Most people would try to pretend it didn't happen. We all grew from that.
In difficult situations, just simply acknowledge what's in the space. When it's tense and tight, say "this is hard." When there's conflict, say "this feels really edgy." When a person feels seen and validated in whatever they experience, that compassion grows the connection between the giver and receiver, sometimes profoundly. It's the "co" part of Co-Active, the philosophy CTI espouses and our model for coaching and leadership.
We come into relationship with each other to grow. Being authentically seen by others is like water and sunshine for a plant -- it expands us. Perhaps the best part about acknowledgement is you can't acknowledge someone else without having an open heart. It opens hearts in both directions, connects us human to human and then we can grow the best in each other.
Karen Kimsey-House, MFA, CPCC, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the oldest and largest in-person coach training school in the world, and the co-author of the best-selling Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Karen was one of four pioneers of the coaching profession, and in honor of its 20th birthday this year, she is sharing her insights about human transformation in a ten-part HuffPost series,"Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way".