Hand, spoon and soupThanksgiving is in two weeks but don’t bother fasting. You know that starving today won’t help you on T-day. But I know one diet that will:

The appreciation diet.

I recently started working on my appreciations. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty good at acknowledging others – and I teach about the art of appreciation! But when my husband and I started doing a relationship “tune-up” using the work of Gay and Katie Hendricks, I discovered I had much further to go!

I’m pretty good at appreciating the big stuff my husband does for me. But, I discovered that I wasn’t speaking my appreciations for the small stuff he does: turning on the electric kettle or bringing me a cup of tea in the morning, feeding the horses when I’m getting home late, maintaining our cars, or taking out the slimy compost. I have a lot of appreciations going on in my head that I don’t always voice (especially when I’m half asleep!) But I learned that he’d like more acknowledgment for the small stuff he so lovingly does.

Now, I’m on to it.

Appreciations are the low-hanging fruit of communications that build better relationships.

I’ve discovered, in the leadership classes I’ve run, that most people could get much better about appreciating others. Often, they just feel awkward. They tell me things like:

I haven’t known them long enough to be able to acknowledge them.

If I promised you $100, I bet that you could take an elevator ride with a stranger and discover something you could appreciate about him or her: “Thanks for holding the door.” or “That color you’re wearing really brightens the day,” Or “What a cool pin.” You’d stretch to find something.

If a comment to a stranger feels too intimate for starters, why not practice with the people with whom you work? Instead of daydreaming in meetings (you do daydream occasionally, right?), try to imagine one positive thing you could say to each person in the room. And then, pick out a few appreciations to give out afterwards.

It feels phony.

Fortunately, most humans have an inner litmus test for genuineness. We can tell when someone is bullshitting us and smell when we’re being manipulated. But sometimes, if we’ve been manipulated in the past, our bullshit-ometer gets over-developed and we start to anticipate that everyone is “out to get something” from us.

Truth is, folks probably are, but that’s not always so bad. Maybe they want a connection, a smile, a moment of sharing a good feeling together. Most people aren’t manipulating – and we can hear through false complements.

Sometimes our super-sensitivity to falseness can lead us to judge ourselves and hold back from saying something in case we appear false to others. Do it anyway! The art of acknowledgment is a muscle you develop – and best to start with someone when you know that you don’t have any agenda.

I don’t know what to say.

Just keep going, I say to my clients, until you find something real to say to someone. Small and specific is good. “When you made that comment in the meeting, it really got me thinking.” There. Small. Done.

Although there may be some of us who still enjoy the occasional “you’re wonderful” complement delivered with a hug (I do!), most of my clients prefer appreciations that are specific and targeted. The introverted engineers I work with usually run the other way when complements get too fluffy.

You can always be task-focused: “The way you prepared the data on that report, made it very easy for me to complete the narrative. Thanks.” Or “I appreciate the way you always follow-up with good questions in our meetings.” Just because work is done as part of business as usual doesn’t mean it can’t be acknowledged.

Saying “I appreciate” sounds false, like I’m just out of some kind of self-help seminar.

Fair enough. Choose words that work for you:

“I noticed that”
“It really impressed me when….
“I like it how you….”
“When you did x, it made me feel… (good, more optimistic, engaged…whatever)
“I wish that everyone had your gift for….”
“I just wanted to thank you for….”
“I thought that your contribution was ….” (useful, on target, courageous, etc.)

How can I appreciate someone I don’t like?

Time for the advanced course. Try to drop your aversion to someone’s personality for a moment and think about what he stands for or cares about. Maybe he really values punctuality, detail and the status quo, which is why you might butt heads on a project you think requires flexibility and innovative thinking.

Can you find a useful value embedded in what he is offering, so that you could genuinely say something like, “I appreciate how you are making sure that we don’t lose the useful aspects in how this project currently runs – and I know that you’re really thinking about all the details. We’re going to need that.”

The trick is to be genuine. Falseness is worse than no appreciation at all!

Help! I need some ideas:
Here’s some places I’ve suggested people look for appreciations:

Differences in style. How are is someone different from you and what’s good about that? (e.g. you could say to an extrovert – “It’s great how you get the ball rolling in meetings.” To an introvert: “I really value how closely you listen.”)
Their contribution to a task or project.
Their imagination or way of thinking.
How they make people feel.
The energy they bring to a room.
Their respect for others.
How they make you feel.
How they have helped you.
How they have helped someone else.
Their courage in standing up for their beliefs – even when you might not agree with them.
Their commitments to family or community outside of work.
Their creative way of designing their workflow.
What you have learned from them.

So now for our diet – here’s a sample menu plan:

The appetizer – offer a selection of easy and obvious appreciations for a warm up – the ones you’ve been thinking but haven’t said.

The main course – offer something a little daring. Challenge yourself to create more difficult appreciations – for your boss, a difficult colleague, or folks you know who think differently from you. This stretch will really develop your appreciation muscle.

Dessert – Time for fun to top things off. If you still have room after the main meal, find a way to give an appreciation that is out of the blue and unexpected. Acknowledge a business you like, or a retail clerk who gives you service, or someone you admire on-line. I once sent a note to a woman who curates information on storytelling on-line. She has thousands of followers. But when I appreciated the usefulness of what she does she wrote back: “You made my day.” And she made mine!

So now – go out and gorge on appreciations!

P.S. I’d love to hear from you great ways that you have shared appreciations – even when you didn’t feel like it!