One of the most neglected behaviors in discussion with employees or colleagues is showing appreciation for contributions. It may be that a participant enhances our understanding of a topic, or maybe he or she helped lead the conversation to new lines of questioning or thinking. Showing appreciation for valuable input is one of the best ways to keep the valuable insights coming.
To do this, we have devised two useful strategies: The Appreciative Pause, which usually happens during a discussion, and the Post-It Plaudit, at its conclusion.
How the Appreciative Pause Works
At least once in every discussion you call for a pause of a minute or so. During this time the only comments allowed from participants are those that acknowledge how something that someone else said in the discussion (NOT the instructor) has contributed to their learning.
These appreciations are often given for:
• A question that was asked that suggested a whole new line of thinking.
• A comment that clarified something that up to then was confusing.
• A new idea that is intriguing and had not been considered before.
• A comment clarifying the connection between two other ideas or contributions.
• An example that helped increase understanding of a difficult concept.
How the Post-It Plaudit Works
A Post-It Plaudit (PIP) provides an audit of what people appreciated. At the end of a workshop, meeting or discussion participants write brief notes of appreciation on small post-it notes for actions taken or contributions made by others in the group.
These can be placed on a board or wall where everyone can see them, and when all the notes are posted, group members go to the wall or board to read them. Alternatively, you as facilitator can read out the PIPs to the whole workshop.
For small groups, an alternative option is to ask people to use Post-Its when small groups display the results of their discussions on newsprint around the room. Participants place Post-Its next to themes or findings they want to discuss further. After a few minutes, Post-Its become clustered in patterns that provide an immediate visual record of which comments generated the most reaction. The whole group them moves into a discussion of these clusters.
This works especially well in organizations, teams, communities, and groups where morale is low. Since one of the key inhibitors to working well is feeling unappreciated, this activity can be a crucial starting point for community and team building.
What Users Appreciate About PIPs
• Feeling recognized and affirmed: When another member acknowledges your contribution you feel respected and acknowledged.
• Learning about what's helpful to others: Group members who simultaneously occupy leadership roles outside the group understand better how to support the work of colleagues and supervisors.
• Its concreteness: Many appreciations are detailed descriptions of particular actions. Receivers find these useful and often resolve to do them more regularly.
• The cohesion it builds: There is often a noticeable change in group tone or tenor after an appreciative pause or post-it plaudit.
What to Watch Out For
• Lack of practice: People don't have much practice doing this so, as with many of these exercises, the facilitator should model how to show appreciation. This is especially relevant when a team is facilitating the event and members can express appreciation for each other's contributions.
• Lack of specificity: Appreciation works best when it's specific. Comments such as "I like what you said," don't add much to the conversation compared to a specific comment that shows how a particular observation surprised, informed, or inspired.
This column was adapted from The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking by Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill (Jossey-Bass/Wiley Publishing, 2016).