Appreciation: The Key to Unlocking Learning

This post is by Growbot’s Diary

“Can I give you some feedback?”

The voice in our head shouts “No!” even as we smile and mumble “Sure” almost convincingly.

As experts in feedback and difficult conversations we are no exception ourselves. We have the same conflicted relationship with feedback as do our clients, friends, and family. Whether or not that (unsolicited) advice is right or wrong, whether we are furious or eventually grateful for it, in the moment feedback can be incredibly, sickeningly painful. It can leave us feeling underappreciated. Misunderstood. Embarrassed. Hurt. Angry.

Why does feedback have to be so much like the childhood experience of eating vegetables? Like vegetables, feedback is good for you. It will help me grow. But does it have to be such an unpleasant sensory experience? Is it necessary to feel sick afterwards?

And why are the people in my life so bad at giving me the feedback? Some of them dance around the issue when I just need them to give it to me straight. Others provide an angry dressing down, and then defend themselves by saying, “I was just trying to help you.” Is clear, thoughtful, honest, and actually helpful feedback too much to ask?

Let’s first take a step back.

What is feedback?

One of the challenges of feedback is that there are actually three different kinds of feedback. Each has a different purpose, and we need all three — at different times and in different proportion — to learn and grow. The easy way to remember them is ACE:

  1. Appreciation — Appreciation says “I see you,” “I notice what you’re doing” and “It’s valuable.” A customer’s praise, the grateful look in your friend’s eye when you’ve bailed them out of their latest predicament, a teammates’ heartfelt thanks, props in Growbot.
  2. Coaching — Coaching is anything designed to help you improve — grow in skill, knowledge, effectiveness or efficiency; how to improve your performance, product or personality. Coaching is the engine for learning, and also for high-performance teams collaborating together.
  3. Evaluation — Evaluation rates or ranks us against expectations — it tells us where we stand and what to expect. Performance or product reviews are the most obvious form of evaluation, but we are evaluating anytime we’re making a judgment call — “Is this ready to go to the boss?” Our ability to make those calls — to know what’s expected and what’s amazing — guides the judgment calls we make every day.

The critical role of appreciation

So we need all three kinds of feedback to learn and grow. But the key to it all working is actually Appreciation. The one that disappears most often.

Especially when people working quickly to iterate, scale or just get things done, appreciation gets skipped. We’re all working night and day. Who has time for talking about what’s working well when there are bugs to fix and tickets to respond to? Yet a lack of appreciation is directly tied to motivation, productivity and engagement. Why continue to put all our blood sweat and tears into this project if nobody even notices?

Not feeling appreciated also blocks our ability to hear coaching. Sean has been working around the clock to get the product ready for launch. He’s close to burning out. Jo drops Sean a quick message in a side channel: “Sean! Ask for help already! You don’t have to be a hero!” While Jo is trying to help (and her advice might even be wise), Sean now feels both criticized and under-appreciated for busting his ass. Enough already!

Sean isn’t alone.

Studies show that between 85–93% of people feel under-appreciated at work. That under-appreciation feeds cynicism and short tempers, short-circuiting our openness to suggestions and ability to collaborate effectively as a team.

The boon and bane of technology when it comes to appreciation

Technology is fantastic. It allows us to work faster, more quickly, while scattered all over the globe. And it creates new challenges for feedback relationships. Studies show that virtual teams experience more conflict than face-to-face teams. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • We have less visibility to what others are doing
  • We move faster than ever, rarely pausing to reflect
  • We make (more) assumptions about people and what they know
  • We email or post things we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) say to someone face-to-face

In that environment, it’s even more important to remember to appreciate — to notice and acknowledge — what others and doing and how hard they are working. Reminders to do so come in many forms — part of the challenge is just developing the habit yourself, and fostering it on your team. This is one reason that having Growbot in your slack channel, for example, serves as an easy reminder to give props and appreciate others you work with regularly.

A couple other rules of thumb when trying to appreciate someone:

  1. Be specific. “Great job!” “Nice work!” or a flurry of emojis can help, but the more specific you can get about what you appreciate, the better. Specificity also helps them to know what you want them to keep doing.
  2. Be authentic. Half-hearted props doled out routinely can dilute their impact. We all know when someone’s saying something not because they mean it, but because they think they are supposed to. Don’t go through the motions. Find what you genuinely appreciate about the other person and say that.
  3. Know the person. Different things make different people feel appreciated. Does your teammate like to be publicly recognized, or would they prefer you say something on the side? Do they value words or props, or would they rather you keep the 1:1s they’ve got scheduled with you? Knowing their preferences helps you know how to help them hear your appreciation.
  4. Ask! Don’t know their preferences? Ask each other how and when you each feel most appreciated so you can help each other be engaged and do great work together.

Getting appreciation right unlocks our ability to coach each other, collaborate, and problem-solve — especially when working quickly and remotely.

For more on how to take charge of your own learning and growth, and to change the feedback culture on your team, check out Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It’s Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

Or visit us at under “Help Yourself” for free resources and other suggestions!

Disclaimer: This is a curated post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire or its editor(s). This article was originally published by the author here.

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