How Can I Cultivate the Practice of Appreciation?

Work to consciously appreciate those around you, especially those with whom you want to cultivate one-on-one relationships.

Any time you find your mind being filled with a lot of mental chatter, taking you away from the present moment, pause to think with appreciation about things in your life.

  • As you go through the day, pause to note what you appreciate about someone in particular.
  • When it seems appropriate, make an appreciative comment.
  • Let feelings of appreciation take hold.

Reflect on the effects of appreciation
As you begin to practice appreciation, take time to notice:

  • Do your attitudes toward other people and the manner of your connections change?
  • Do you notice that other people’s attitudes and the manner of their connections have changed?
  • Does the discipline of appreciation change how you go through the day—how you work, play, and rest?
  • Do you have more or less patience? Do you feel more or less stressed? Do you have more or less energy?

(Some questions adapted from Rao, S. Srikumar, Are you Ready to Succeed?, New York: Hyperion, 2006. p. 96)

Once you begin the practice of appreciating the world, your work, and your place in it, you may discover that old resistances drop away and you have new energy and strategies for being the best you can be.

For example, when I began this discipline I realized I became more relaxed. I had much more patience for people doing things in different ways. I felt less stressed. My husband commented that I was much easier to live with. He wanted me to keep up this practice. Over time I became much better at building relationships. I feel more deeply relaxed and joyful every time I have conversations with people which are based on this attitude.

All of my coaching conversations are based on this attitude. Some clients need to learn this. They report that they feel that they feel less pressure, enjoy people more and have more patience. People around them are not only more relaxed, they are also more effective.

How Can I Manage Stress?

“The most prevalent—and for all we know, most serious—health problem of our time is stress, which is defined by Hans Selye, dean of the stress concept, as the “rate of wear and tear on the human body.” . . . Our experiences come at us in such profusion and from so many different directions that they are never really sorted out, much less absorbed. The result is clutter and confusion. We gorge the senses and starve the sensitivities.”

Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness, p. 65

A lot of what goes on in business today is challenging. Many people in most organizations deal with challenges all the time.

We are caught in a web of technology they can barely live with and can’t live without. In 24/7 globalism, people stretch their skills across geographies and time zones. Human biology is not built for constant high alert. We are built for cycles of sprint and pause, quick growth and slow ripening. Stress causes our bodies to produce deadly chemicals. Constant tension, worry, frustration, suppressed rage, inadequate exercise, stale or polluted air, and insufficient sleep add up to migraine headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, ulcers and heart attacks.

Support yourself and build the stamina needed for your work.

  • Rest deeply. Get enough sleep.
  • Refresh. During time off, focus on activities which refresh and restore—time with family and friends, travel, singing, eating together, painting, reading or watching movies, meditation.
  • Eat healthy. Watch out for addictions such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as overeating or sugar binges and the many other things that people use to numb out in busy times.
  • Get physical. Move your body in sports, exercise, dance and the like. Build strength, flexibility and stamina.
  • Be aware of your emotional well-being. Talk with close friends and family, a counselor or a coach about what is going on. Release painful emotion. Act on clear thinking rather than painful emotion.
  • Make time for spirituality. Be in touch with the larger world around you. Whether listening to music, being in nature, watching dance or taking part in organized religion.
  • Take care of relationship well-being. Build strong connections with other people. Share thinking in intelligent discussion with others. Learn what others are thinking and doing.
  • If any part of this seems difficult, ask, “What gets in the way of taking care of myself?”
  • Take care of yourself intellectually, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in relationships.

How Can I Inspire Myself to Act on My Best Self Every Day?

Business leaders don’t often take the time to reflect. They are trained to focus on problems and issues. Taking time for appreciative reflection can be difficult—especially appreciating themselves.

In many cultures and educational systems, people are told that if they feel too good about themselves, they become overbearing and arrogant. Some cultures advocate self-effacement and self-criticism. Of course everyone wants to do better or to handle each situation elegantly. When outcomes don’t match expectations, we become judgmental. But judging and criticizing alone do not help people improve. Criticism that is not balanced with appreciation erodes confidence and trust.

If a leader or a group aims to function at a high level as often as possible, it is important to appreciate strengths and inborn qualities. When people are aware of how they function at their best, they can move beyond simple satisfaction with a job well done to continually building on success.

Appreciate your best self
For five or ten minutes every evening, before bed, think of all that happened that day. Allow yourself to reflect on your professional and personal life and feel appreciation—for your network of relationships, your intelligence, for things that are going well at work, for who you are as a human being, and much more. Appreciate in yourself the same things you appreciate in others:

  • What you do well, the energy and intelligence you bring to each situation.
  • How hard you work, with appreciation for good health that makes this possible.
  • How much you care and who you are, how being yourself contributes to your organization and your community.

How Does Face Work in Asia?

All groups and cultures have ways to show respect. There are ways to express appreciation in which no one becomes a target, and that allow people to be humble and gracious in response. This kind of appreciation is a way of giving face.

Cultures throughout Africa, Central and South America, parts of Europe, and the Middle East often show a highly developed concern with getting and giving face. In Asia, face is extremely nuanced. The Chinese, Korean and Japanese are acutely aware of several aspects of face. They think of:

  • Having face
  • Saving or maintaining face
  • Being given face
  • Losing face
  • Maintaining and giving face to others

In China, where face is called mianzi, it means having dignity, having the respect of people in the organization and the community. Face also means effectiveness. The more face a person has, the more effective that person will be.

Not only do Asians think about their own face, they are also concerned about the face of the organization, which includes key members who are points of unity for each group. This orientation contrasts with typical Western cultures, which are primarily concerned with an individual losing face. Losing face in the West is considered similar to being humiliated. But a typical Asian sees face as much more complex.

In traditional Asian families, for example, children are taught early to care about face because their face is also the family face. If they do something wrong or bring shame to themselves, they also bring shame on the family, the community, the nation, and as adults, to their workplaces.

Giving face in the organization
An effective leader who pays attention to face will take the time to create harmonious relations among co-workers and to build confidence through appreciative support. This helps everyone maintain and gain face.

Giving face starts with professionally demonstrating genuine confidence in each person. Employees who believe their leaders have confidence in them increase their own sense of confidence. They also feel more indebted and closer to the leader.

Effective leaders give people face without singling anyone out for undue praise. They give face through:

  • Giving sincere compliments, both one-on-one and in public, often for whole groups since people seldom succeed by themselves
  • Conferring a sense of dignity, such as placing people in seats of honor
  • Using apologies as a social lubricant to build trust and rapport
  • Treating people at every level of the organization with respect

When people are being given face, many respond with humility by deflecting compliments, saying “It is nothing” or “Please don’t thank me.” Often they acknowledge the help of others. Experienced leaders recognize such self-effacing behavior as culturally-appropriate modesty.

Activities outside work which include people at different levels of the organization also help build and maintain face. Leaders can learn about the families of co-workers and, when it is most needed, do something to help. If appropriate, invite small groups home. During leisure time, have fun together. In some Asian countries, work groups take trips together for a short vacation or long weekend.

There are many kinds of face-giving support leaders can offer in organizations. Effective leaders do them routinely. Some recognized strategies which give an organization face are:

  • Including top executives and government officials in public ceremonies (such as a grand opening) to build credibility.
  • Hosting an open house (annually or semi-annually) for employees, their families and friends and other community members.
  • Taking time to help individuals resolve conflicts in face-saving ways in order to foster harmony in the organization.
  • Giving one-on-one coaching, anticipating problems and rehearsing effective ways to resolve them.
  • Setting up opportunities for exposure to senior leaders.
  • Offering skills development opportunities and training.
  • Making sure individuals who perform or present in public will succeed.
  • Making resources available, such as extra personnel during crunch times, training or development, and access to information and data.
  • Freeing up special project funding.
  • Facilitating introductions to senior people in the organization and to professionals in the worldwide network.

True leaders know that their success and the success of the organization depend on the effectiveness of the people in the organization. Success also depends on the dignity and respect that people outside are willing to give the organization. Building, maintaining, giving, and receiving face are core strategies in developing a foundation of trust and confidence that strengthens everyone during times of challenge.

How Does Appreciation Help?

Giving respect and appreciation is a choice. You can choose to appreciate what is good in your colleagues and yourself. You can choose to enjoy people fully, foibles and all. How? Learn to see beyond temporary difficulties, style conflicts, cultural differences and “push back.” Choose to see things that can be appreciated in a situation or in people. Observe people—both new hires and long-time employees—and try to catch them at what they do well. Don’t only appreciate people for what they do but also for who they are.

Soon you will begin to notice how people who feel sincerely respected and appreciated seem especially confident and motivated. Well-grounded respect from leaders and colleagues builds self-assurance and commitment toward others. People who know that you respect them are more willing to go the extra mile and do what needs to be done. They come to work with energy in their step and with a light heart. It can make work fun!

The power of verbal appreciation
One of the easiest and most effective ways to build relationships is by expressing appreciation for people and their work. Leaders can offer simple, sincere, and specific comments which are based on what they see going on in the organization. Genuine appreciation based on real evidence can make a big difference in motivating individuals and groups to creatively resolve problems.

Verbal appreciation at appropriate times helps build confidence, making people feel more and more capable. Especially new hires. People may be capable, but they cannot know for sure that others see this unless their abilities are verbally recognized.

Effective leaders tell people they work with what a wonderful and important job they are doing. They comment on:

  • What people do well
  • How hard people work
  • How much people care

We are always looking at some level for assurance and reassurance that we are OK—even those of us who are tough and serious on the outside. Offering approval and praise, with a positive tone of voice and sincere facial expression, makes an impact on people whoever they are. On-going appreciation by leaders builds relationships in an organization wherever it is.

How can we give respectful appreciation?
Early in relationships we often don’t fully trust each other. We may not feel safe with one another. Initially, trust is about possibilities. The evidence is not there yet. Still, it is possible to demonstrate respect and give others face, thus laying the foundation for trust in the future.

Harvard Business School professor and management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter observes that sincere and meaningful support can generate confidence and trust. But she stresses that appreciation needs to be based on real evidence. “Confidence is a situational expectation—expectation of a positive outcome. . . .[But] a pep talk without evidence is empty, and people see right through it.”

The first step in cultivating a respectful, appreciative outlook is to begin talking about what is truly going well. Appreciative comments need to be about things that have really happened, such as:

  • Aspects of the organization that are going so smoothly people tend to forget them
  • Genuine possibilities for the group
  • Real progress in what people are doing and how they are doing it (their attitude, behavior and skills).

For many relationship- and group-oriented people, appreciation from seniors, elders and company leaders is the quickest path to confident and effective action. Many people look for approval from from figures of authority. Effective leaders show confidence in the people around them. In return, people believe that they can do what they are asked to do—and in fact they often go far beyond what anyone had imagined possible.

[If leaders are considered a good judge of success, then a leader’s confidence in a person can be relied on meaning of this sentence not clear]. Authority figures who observe respectfully and express approval appropriately instill confidence in people. In addition, one-on-one relationships that grow in an atmosphere of appreciation and respect build trust on both sides. Both sides become confident that they can ask for and receive guidance and cooperation from each other.

Every culture has barbed names for the act of overdoing appreciation to gain favor: “brown nosing” or “shining someone’s shoes” or “kissing ass” or “patting the horse’s ass”. But if appreciation and respect are given sincerely for things that have really happened and for genuine qualities people display, they are the foundation of satisfying relationships, both one-on-one and in groups. The confidence and community that grow when people feel appreciated can provide the internal strength to go forward and do something new.


What Critical Experiences Would Help Me Progress My Career?

The economic and business environment is changing rapidly. This has a big impact on jobs and careers. In such a dynamic environment jobs are changing too. Some jobs won’t exist in the future. Other jobs will have requirements that look quite different from the requirements of today. How can you prepare yourself for the future?

  • By experiencing a variety of different environments and organizational challenges. Being flexible and open to different opportunities and situations is the best way to develop career-building experiences. When you work in different areas you learn how to manage change and adjust effectively to new situations and the challenges they bring. You learn to look at the world from different perspectives.
  • By assessing your skills, capabilities, experience, strengths and weaknesses at different points in your career. And then figure out which types of new experiences are needed for further career development. These experiences are often full-time jobs. In addition, task forces, special projects, short-term assignments and other opportunities can all contribute to your depth and breadth of experience and build your capabilities. The sequence of experiences is often not critical.
  • By having a technical capability as a foundation on which to build. This could be an expertise in sales, marketing, operations, IT, finance, change management, people development, human resources, strategic planning, the law.
  • By building relationships with people throughout the organization (for example, within your function, across-functions, and across business lines). This will provide you with new insights and exposure to other talented people. Learning first-hand about the challenges they have faced increases your in-depth knowledge of the organization.

Critical Experiences include:

  • Operational leadership
  • Turning around a business
  • Work in a staff role in headquarters or a regional office
  • Work in a line role, in a business unit which reports a profit or loss
  • Work in a start-up business
  • Work in a mature business
  • Work in an emerging market
  • Work in a developed market
  • Work in a joint venture
  • Have P&L (profit and loss) responsibility
  • Work through an organizational change, such as implementation of Six Sigma, a new organization operating system or a re-organization
  • Work through a merger or acquisition process
    • Functional mobility. For example, move from one department or function to another department or function
    • Organizational mobility. For example, move from one product group to another product group
    • Geographical mobility: for example, move from one location to another location
  • Sell a vision
  • Take part in a leadership development experience, internal or external
  • Work in a rotational assignment
  • Coach others in your area of strength
  • Be mentored by a senior leader
  • Mentor a junior member of the organization
  • Shadow someone whose role you might want in the future
  • Head a project which involves either challenging content or different management skills

What Critical Experiences so far have helped you to develop your skills and capabilities? What Critical Experiences might you want to experience in the future?

How Important is it to Build Relationships?

Establishing new relationships happens all the time in business. New people are hired, someone is promoted or begins to work in a department new to them, and members of a team are shuffled. Amidst such flux, leaders I have coached often ask: How do we create an environment in which both new and long-standing people work effectively together, thinking clearly, feeling deeply motivated, and acting powerfully?

In most multi-national corporations, the business is focused on strategy, processes, implementation and tasks, plus the skills to get things done. But it’s people, working with other people, who get things done, often in intercultural relationships.

Successful leaders know the importance of focusing on both task and relationships. Establishing and cultivating strong relationships supports everyone, providing the attention, collaboration, closeness and confidence we need to meet the challenges ahead. The stronger the relationships within an organization, the better people are able and willing to work. When leaders model and teach people how to build relationships rooted in confidence, trust, and respect, we can dream bigger dreams and accomplish far more than we ever thought possible.

How Do I Cultivate the Practice of Listening? (Part 1)

“When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels good. When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and go on.

“It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens. How confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.”

Carl Rogers, psychologist

Successful leaders are often publicly recognized for what they say, but they achieve their real power by listening and asking insightful questions. To talk, to listen, and to be heard are acts that help clear confusion. Listening is an active form of caring, and it qualitatively changes the way people work together.

Task-oriented people, especially those who have arrived in senior positions, sometimes find it hard to see how listening can help them. Listening is how leaders get people involved and connected with one another.

  • Being listened to engages people in what is going on and helps develop buy-in.
  • Talking about the organization’s goals and then listening to how people respond helps a leader develop strategy and objectives and uncover possible problems.
  • Listening enriches the leader’s own thinking by getting a wider range of ideas. Being listened to fosters clearer thinking all around.
  • As Carl Rogers implies, being listened to releases stress, increases motivation, and expands creativity.

Charles Handy, author of the classics Inside Organisations and Gods of Management, writes, “Sometimes it is indeed arrogance to trust your views more than those of others. Great leaders seem to live with a mix of humility and confidence, which includes the ability to admit on occasion that they are wrong.”

In order to connect with others, people may have to reach past feelings of busy-ness and separation. A leader committed to reaping the benefits of listening and being listened to can always find time to enjoy the people he or she works with.

How Can Executives Listen Better?

Most executives focus on presenting their own views in the most effective way rather than on listening to the views of others. The discipline of listening, in my experience as an executive coach, makes a big difference in success or failure at work for leaders or, for that matter, most people.

About 90% of my clients, executives in MNCs, need to work on their listening. And listening works for the people I coach in Greater China, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe and North America.

In the February 2012 edition of the McKinsey Quarterly Bernard T. Ferrari wrote the article “The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening.”

In response I have crafted several principles for effective listening for executives (or, indeed, anyone):

1. Listen with appreciation
2. Listen until the other person is finished (allow the release of feelings until clear ideas are forthcoming)
3. Ask insightful questions to get ideas flowing
4. Allow the generation of fresh thinking to enable innovation; set goals based on clear thinking, then act and get results.

Busy leaders often feel they have neither time nor opportunity to cultivate relationships based on listening. But when people are listened to and heard they think more clearly and flexibly. They also need to listen to others in turn. Everyone reaches a deeper understanding of others’ views and ideas. People can then generate amazingly creative ideas.

As we form trusting relationships we each feel valued and needed. And we then function at a higher level as individuals and in a group.

With whom do you feel you can share your ideas most deeply? What does that person do that enables you to share so deeply? I bet he or she knows how to listen.