Overcoming Reluctance to Express Appreciation

Most of us experience a wonderful and rewarding feeling when someone recognizes us for a meaningful contribution we have made or for a special quality or characteristic we have.  Most people enjoy that warm feeling that comes when we feel special – when we know that we matter.  When we feel valued and appreciated, we feel energized, are more productive, feel connected, and do our best work.  When employees are engaged, organizations excel and become more profitable.

Unfortunately, most people also feel that expressions of appreciation don’t come frequently enough.  There seems to be a disconnect between what we like to receive and what we are willing to give:  65% of people in the workplace state that they have received no appreciation during the past year and 64% of people who leave their jobs give lack of appreciation as the number one reason.  Lack of appreciation affects us outside the workplace as well, placing stress on marriages, families, and friendships.   I wonder how many divorces can be traced to a lack of appreciation by each spouse for the contribution of the other.

Given all of the benefits of appreciation, why are we often reluctant to express it?

We Feel Vulnerable

When we express our true feelings, we feel exposed.

Remedy:  Recognize the long-term gain vs. the short-term pain.  When we open ourselves up to taking risks by appreciating another person, we are being courageous and the payoff can be extraordinary.  When we hold ourselves back out of fear, we stay stuck and deny ourselves the experience of tremendous satisfaction as well as the reward gained from giving to another person.  Recognize that other people can’t hurt us.  We cause our own hurt based on how we think.  If someone doesn’t respond to our appreciation as we would have liked, all we know is what we see and hear.  We do not know what’s behind their actions (or lack thereof) and even if we did, their opinion of us does not change who we are.  We can feel proud of ourselves for having taken a kind and thoughtful action.

When we open ourselves up to taking risks by appreciating another person, we are being courageous and the payoff can be extraordinary.

We Feel Uncomfortable or Awkward

Remedy:  We create our own feelings based on what we tell ourselves – that voice inside our heads.  When we feel uncomfortable, it’s typically because we’re saying something like, “It’s too hard” or “I can’t”.  Some things are difficult to do, but when is something “too” difficult or “too” uncomfortable?  When we add “too” we don’t change the situation.  We only add enormity to the way we think about it.  I often consider the phrase: “It is what it is, but it becomes what we make it.”  Is it true that you CAN’T or is it rather that you’re UNWILLING?  There’s a huge difference.  Can’t means it’s impossible.  Unwilling means it’s a choice.  We almost always know which one it is, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.  I encourage you to move past your discomfort and share your appreciation.  We can all live through feeling uncomfortable.  I suspect each of us has experienced awkward moments in our lives and survived.  The benefit in moving past the discomfort and expressing your appreciation is tremendous.

We are Concerned about How the Other Person May Take It

We may believe that our expressions of appreciation will be misinterpreted.  We may be concerned that the recipient will question our intent.  Perhaps they will think we want something from them, or that we are trying to butter them up, or that we have an ulterior motive.  So, how can I make sure they know that I’m being sincere?

Remedy: We don’t have a lot of control over how a message or action might be perceived or received.  What we can do is be sincere, share specifics and let the other person know the impact they’ve had.

When is something “too” difficult or “too” uncomfortable?  When we add “too” we don’t change the situation.  We only add enormity to the way we think about it.

A Pay Check is all that’s needed

Remedy:  Multiple research studies shows that the vast majority of people (90%) are motivated to do great work when they are appreciated.  If you want the people who work for you and with you to be engaged and productive, appreciate them.  The pay-off for you, for them, and for your company will be tremendous.

We Don’t Know What to Say or Do

Appreciations can come in many forms.  Know that different people receive expressions of appreciation differently.  Some of us enjoy hand-written notes or spoken words of appreciation (see Meaningful Appreciations for specific suggestions); others feel appreciated with quality time spent together.  Some people feel special by receiving a thoughtful gift, while others recognize that they matter when they receive offers of help and support.  Some people feel valued when their advice is sought, while a high five or a pat on the back helps others feel they belong.  We’re all different.  When you want to let someone know you appreciate them, take time to understand how that person will best receive your intention.  Recognize, too, that some are mortified with public displays of appreciation while others relish it.  These concepts are developed in Dr. Paul White’s [easyazon_link asin=”080246176X” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”achievstrate-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace[/easyazon_link].


Remedy:  It takes little time to offer an expression of appreciation and yet the recipient may feel the impact for a lifetime.

We all know the world would be a better place if we treated each other with more kindness and offered expressions of appreciation more frequently.  I urge you to move beyond, “I agree.  It would be great if more people shared expressions of appreciation.” – to a posture ready to take action.  Will you let the people who have had an impact on you know how they’ve influenced your life?  I urge you to overcome whatever obstacle you have and express your appreciation.  I suspect you will feel great for having done so.


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Image credit: madozi / 123RF Stock Photo

Margy Bresslour is the Founder of Moving Messages, a company dedicated to encouraging the expression of appreciation. Moving Messages works with organizations to create a positive and productive culture where employees feel valued and are fully engaged, and where customers and clients love doing business. Margy offers consultation, coaching, and mentoring that develop individuals who thrive, cohesive teams that enjoy working together, and organizations that get rave reviews and improved outcomes.

  • Great post Margy. I’d never considered the reasons that people may feel adverse to expressing appreciation and actually never considered that they may. What comes naturally to one person can be a real struggle for another. This is a great example of how complex we humans can be and why it’s a bad idea to judge all of us by any one of us. Thanks!

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