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1 May 2014

Power in Acknowledging Others

Building RelationshipsAn executive reviews observations about an employee with a manager and concludes, “Tom, you need to support him by doing X, Y and Z.”

Manager responds, “Yes, Nicole, I see that.”

Another executive reviews observations about another employee with another manager, “Sam, I need you to support Mark here,” as she turns and looks at Mark, “by doing X, Y and Z.”

Manager responds, “Yes, Samantha, I see that.”

Both conversations took place while the employee was standing right there, but we don’t know that by the first conversations’ comments. Yet, this happens very frequently in the workplace: we talk about people in their presence without acknowledging them, without including them. This either takes the form of failing to address them in comments or to look at them. Public speaking techniques encourage us to make eye contact, so why not in interpersonal conversations?

While the same information transfers, the emotional impact is considerable. Acknowledgement is a relationship building technique. Using names helps us personalize our conversations. Together, these techniques help us engage and develop strong relationships, the secret to helping others adapt to change. This acknowledging relational strategy has been shown to increase children’s intelligence (“In The Beginning Was the Word”, [The Economist, February 22, 2014 edition], Betty Hart and Todd Risley, [University of Kansas] study). By talking to children rather than about them when they are present, they become more intelligent.

Even though the study was about children not adults, both are humans, meaning acknowledgment has power that will manifest itself differently in children and adults. It won’t make employees more intelligent, but it will make them more engaged. Keys are to:

  • Use their names
  • Look at them
  • Address them
  • Incorporate them

How can people feel they have value to our team, if we don’t even acknowledge them?


Related information (book):


4 Responses

  1. Clay Withers

    Yes I have experienced this….Once when I attended a management meeting, I was treated in this way. I got up after everyone else had spoken and enlightened those in attendance with actual facts and figures. They were silent. I never got invited to another management meeting. This sort of thing happens a lot where I work. I am not a manager now, I organise my own workload and inform those concerned if there is a problem in any area.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Clay, a group usually doesn’t like an individual pointing out its failings. These things do happen in the workplace. It’s important to acknowledge so we can learn, correct and grow. Many times education about the workplace is too Pollyanna. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience. I appreciate it. ~Mike

  2. Very good point, with wide applications also outside the workplace. Guess all people with disabilities (and most women) have been talked ‘over’. When my father was dying he was an interesting case. One day the professor bustled into the ward, greeted my mother, greeted me, then poised at the foot of the bed to give a lecture to his entourage. My father (typical English gentleman) held out his hand and said ‘How do you do? I’m the patient.’

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you very much Marilyn for that humorous story. I’m sure he relished in saying that too. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing. ~Mike

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