April 8 – Encouragement and Appreciation

“Three billion people on the face of the earth go to bed hungry every night, but four billion people go to bed every night hungry for a simple word of encouragement and recognition.” (Cavett Robert)

As I have mentioned before, I was once an instructor of the Dale Carnegie Course for Human Relations. In that course we taught the 30 Human Relations Principles. The second principle in the set is “Give honest and sincere appreciation.” So important is this principle to the concept of winning friends and influencing people, that it is second only to the principle of not criticizing, condemning and complaining.

I can’t speak for the statistics mentioned in this quote, and they really don’t matter. What is true is that there are far too many people who go to bed, or go home from work, without hearing a word of encouragement or recognition. This lack of encouragement and recognition leads to hopelessness and despair. If no one appreciates what I am doing, then why do I bother to try?

At work, that hopelessness and despair leads to poor work performance, and dissatisfaction in a person’s job. Ultimately it contributes to turnover, as jaded employees leave for other pastures. Those pastures aren’t always made greener by being lined with money, but they become more attractive because of the appreciation shown to employees.

In homes this despair leads to fights and arguments. It becomes a cancer to a marriage, and it poisons children. Divorce, problems for children at school, violence and a whole host of other problems are contributed to by this lack of appreciation and encouragement.

I am not trying to say that the hunger for encouragement and recognition is the source of all evil in the world. The world’s problems are far more complex than that. What I am saying is that it may be the easiest of all the world’s problems to solve, and solving it may have effects that are far reaching. Solving this problem involves nothing more than showing the people around me that I appreciate what they do, and then encouraging them when they are feeling down.

Creating a spirit of encouragement, support and recognition doesn’t cost a dime. Too often when I talk to other managers about the concept of showing appreciation the conversation turns to monetary compensation. Annual raises, special recognition programs that offer nominal gifts and the like are important. But those come only one or twice a year. What about the other 363 days? I don’t have to pull out my wallet, or my company’s check book to tell someone that I appreciate what they do. It doesn’t take a plaque or a certificate to encourage someone who is struggling with a difficult task or problem. All it takes is for me to visit with that person, listen to them for a bit, and tell them that what they are doing is important and appreciated.

The second thing I will hear managers say is that if they give too much appreciation, then people will come to expect it. They worry that they are setting up an expectation that can’t be met. I say “Good!” Isn’t that a great problem to have? Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where people came home from work exhausted because of all the appreciation they showed one another?

It’s not any different at home. I know for myself that it is the easiest thing in the world to take my family for granted. I come home at the end of a long day, and I am tired. Maybe I am frustrated with what happened at work. Perhaps I am irritated with the traffic I encountered on my ride. Maybe I am just plain hungry and tired. Whatever the case, the easiest thing to do is to assume that my wife and family will be there to take care of me. It is easy to think that I can be in a foul mood in the safety of my home, and not have to worry about the consequences.

It is true that I am safe to be whoever I am, in whatever mood I find myself when I am at home. And I have a very loving, supportive family. But that doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to run roughshod over them. Nor does it mean that I am off the hook on showing them that I care about what they do, or that I appreciate the things they do for one another and for me. And, I owe them the same encouragement that I seek when my days are tough.

Dale Carnegie also wrote the book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” In that book he details principles for reducing a person’s stress in life by breaking out of the habit of stress and worry. In the section called “Cultivate a Mental Attitude that will Bring You Peace and Happiness,” there is a two word principle… “Expect Ingratitude”. Sadly, though one of the first principles that I must take on is to give appreciation, if I want to survive in this world without undue stress, I have to learn to expect ingratitude. This is sound advice for anyone, and a sad commentary on our world. Though the book was written in 1948, the issue remains.

I live in a world where one of the best strategies for reducing stress is to assume that no one will show me gratitude. I also live in a world where I hold the key to someone else’s day. I can either curse the darkness of ingratitude, or I can light the candle of appreciation. As I go through my day sincerely thanking people for what they do – not just a perfunctory, quick “thanks”, but a real appreciation – I am lighting the way for others to do the same.

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