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27 Feb 2012

Relationship Building Technique #4: Acknowledgement

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Relationship Building Techniques

An acknowledgement is usually a short utterance, statement, phrase, question or gesture.

Acknowledgement lets the other person know we are listening, paying attention and interested while remaining non-judgmental.

We often do not learn the value of listening techniques in building relationships. This happens when we listen but people do not know we are listening. Acknowledging what people say is a way to do that. It shows we are paying attention, interested and non-judgmental.

Defining Acknowledgement

An acknowledgement is usually a short utterance, statement, phrase, question or gesture. It stops a conversation from being a one-way exchange. This is very helpful when the other person is doing most of the talking. It can also help us direct the flow of people’s talking by emphasizing their points that we find of value.

Examples of Acknowledgement Technique

Here are some examples of acknowledgements:

  • Single words such as “Yes/No,” “Sure,” “Certainly,” “Amazing!” “Gee!” and “Yeah!”
  • Short phrases or sentences such as “I see,” “I agree,” “That’s amazing,” “I understand,” and “That’s interesting.”
  • Short questions such as “Really?” “Why not?” “Are you joking?”
  • Utterances in the form of sounds such as “Hmm,” “Uh-huh,” exclamation tone in voice, and laughs or chuckles
  • Gestures such as nodding of head, raised or squinting eyebrows, smile or other looks expressing our mood, making direct eye contact on a specific point, moving or leaning forward, and looking at a nearby document that is being referenced

Feelings Acknowledgement Conveys

In relationship building, conveying our feelings is important. Acknowledgements help us convey the feeling that we are:

  • Engaged in the interaction
  • Listening and digesting
  • Perceiving value
  • Complimenting the other person

What Acknowledgement Does

Acknowledgements help us manage conversations when we are not talking much. They help us build relationships by:

  • Encouraging further comments
  • Lowering barriers and increase trust
  • Subtly moving the person to topics you you like
  • Creating a friendly backdrop for conversing

Acknowledgements work very well with other ways to build relationships. They create a more casual, lively and direct conversation with a very few words. They also show that we are listening.


Series Navigation<< Relationship Building Technique #3: PauseRelationship Building Technique #5: Encouragement >>

4 Responses

  1. So important to listen. I find many people go through life without really feeling heard. As you no doubt know, your advice here is very close to the technique known as Active Listening, which we find very useful to teach to children (too).

    We also teach another technique, Deep Listening, which is almost the opposite in that you give NO feedback at all; even more effective under certain circumstances, though you have to explain what you’re doing!

    May I gently point out that saying things like ‘I agree’ is also judgemental in that it expresses your judgement. That’s fine to encourage the person to go on; though in fact it encourages the person to say more of the same, which may not be the same as what they would most like to say.

    We humans are social beings, looking for each others’ approval, with an amazing potential to ‘read’ other people even subconsciously. So we tend to adjust what we say to what we feel the hearers prefer to hear. A great social skill but not necessarily the best way to become ‘heard’. Does this make sense to you?

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, it makes sense to me, Marilyn. We need to peel back that sense though and take a deeper look.

      The challenge is that active listening focuses on us, the listener, too much. For example, I may be listening, but we need to demonstrate that we are listening. The other person needs to feel we are doing this. Yes, much of what I write about is akin to active listening. I don’t like that phrase. It puts the emphasis on the listener not the other person.

      That’s why I call these relationship building techniques. You don’t build relationships by listening so much as by ensuring that the other person knows you are listening. It’s also by how you respond, recalling what they have said in the past for example. The focus is on the other person not on us as listeners.

      Also, I am not keen about adopting a neutral position. People, at some point, want to know you are on their side. That you are not treating them as some neutral subject being processed through various psychological and self-help techniques.

      Change is fearful to many. Many times people won’t go forward unless they know you’re on THEIR side. Too often, objectivity or neutral judgment comes across as not being on anyone’s side, not really caring, as being patronizing. “I agree” in this sense is a way of saying, “Yes, I am on your side.” When confronting change, people don’t want someone who is neutral or objective. They want someone who will help and fight for them. They want someone who is passionately “all in” for them.

      I had an attorney say to me, “Mike, I am neither the brightest attorney nor the most experienced. But, my clients know that I will do whatever I must to help them, and I won’t stop until I do.”

      Objectivity and neutrality are dispassionate states. They are on no one’s side except their own.

  2. Certainly can’t argue with that, Mike. And: I think we’re talking past each other.

    In our experience different modes of listening are used contextually. For some people at some times it is, as you say, vitally important to get passionate support for whatever project they have in mind. For others, or the same people at a different time, it’s important to encounter a listener to whom they can truly say anything without fear of being judged.

    So I would distinguish between being neutral and being non-judgemental.

    I also of course agree that the speaker and the words (and the silences between the words) are the important part. I’ve even had people Deep-Listen to each other when they shared no common language (one speaking Russian, the other Swedish). They seemed to derive great benefit – though I’ve no idea how they did it!

    As a stepping stone we’ve found the technique known as Active Listening to be useful to introduce school children to the concept that there are different ways of listening, and to succeed in focusing better on the speaker. It can get rather mechanistic after a while, and I certainly think most adults should be able to grow out of it. But in the meantime…

    Maybe your principles are what they could graduate to? I don’t have any youth groups in my work-life at the moment, but it would be fun to try.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Marilyn, context matters as to the how and why you apply these skills. There are many reasons to listen to someone. They extend well beyond just getting good information. The context of my techniques is building relationships and leveraging them for action, influencing and problem solving.

      Thank you for visiting and leaving your insights. You always create wonderful dialogue.

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