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How to Give and Receive Appreciation at Work

Appreciation At Work

“The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated. 

 William James, American philosopher and psychologist   


Do you feel appreciated at work?  

It has always puzzled me why leaders can be quick to tell people exactly where, when, and how they are failing, yet seldom point out when people are doing well and where they are succeeding.   

To learn and grow, we need both And catching people doing things well, which reinforces the strengths and behaviours you want to see, needs to far outweigh negative criticism.   

In his latest book BE 2.0Jim Collins says, “If we had to pick the single most underused element of effective corporate leadership, it would be feedback – especially positive feedback.”  

I think some leaders believe that compliments are like genie only get to give out three in your lifetime, so you’d better be judicious!   

The reality is appreciation is free and abundant. It makes people feel good, amplifies strengths, and makes us want to give even better performance. In fact, giving and receiving appreciation plays a critical role in building and maintaining relationships at work and it has a significant positive impact on our well-being. 

According to Employee Appreciation Researcher Christopher Littlefield, “Although the number one thing people associate with being recognized is feeling valued (88%), nearly 70% of people associated embarrassment or discomfort with the process of both giving and receiving.”   

Some leaders haven’t experienced genuine appreciation and convince themselves that it isn’t important for them or their team. Others find it hard to accept and therefore dismiss or reject it. Mostly though, many leaders simply don’t know how to give it appreciation and have not cultivated the habit.   

Learning to Accept Appreciation 

How hard is it for you as a leader to accept appreciation?

To be able to give appreciation, we must first get better at receiving it.  And that can be uncomfortable and vulnerable for some.

So how can we reframe it?

Appreciation gives us information about ourselves that helps us learn and grow. Done well, it can provide insight into how others perceive our strengths and abilities. It lets us know what’s working and what impact we are making.

That’s a generous offering. And all we have to say is “Thank You” or “I appreciate that”. To dismiss, denounce or deflect it doesn’t serve you or the giver.

If you don’t feel you own the credit for the appreciation, simply re-direct it. “That’s fantastic but I can’t take the credit…that was all Kate. I’m sure she’d love to hear that directly from you.”

How to Give Powerful Appreciation   

The purpose of giving appreciation is to develop people and let them know they are valued.  To be effective, it must be substantive, not vague and meaningless. It shouldn’t look like:

“Good job”

“You knocked that one out of the park”

“I am impressed”

“Great team effort”

While there may be a fleeting moment of pride when hearing those vague kudos that are often thrown out, such phrases don’t offer information and only raise questions. What was good about it? Why are you impressed? What did I actually do to impress you?

Appreciation needs to be authentic and specific enough to address questions, reinforce strengths and demonstrate impact.

Here are three tips on how to give appreciation.

1. Be Authentic   

Appreciation needs to be genuine, heartfelt and timely. Ulterior motives or insincerity will be spotted a mile away and that can weaken and damage your relationships.  

Think about your motives for giving appreciation.  

  • What is compelling you to give it 
  • What was the impact of that person’s efforts for you, the team and the organization?  
  • How will hearing that help them grow?     

2. Be Specific 

In giving appreciation, your purpose is to provide context and reinforce the strengths and behaviours that are making a difference.  Notice what they do well and be specific about how that was put into play.  Use examples and call out the details, because those details matter. 

3. Address the impact and benefit   

It’s important to talk about what you see as the impact of action, rather than solely focus on the results. Beyond just the accomplishment or moment, highlight the lasting value of what the person has done. Questions to think about:

  • How does that action or behaviour benefit you, the team and the organization?   
  • How does it reinforce an organization’s values?   

Music to the ears – three examples of appreciation 

I have noticed your remarkable relationship skills. You have a unique ability to connect with our clients and put them totally at ease while addressing their needs. This level of service favorably impacts our customer reviews and contributes to our high service rating. Thank you.     

You have an eagle eye. The way you quickly review documents and catch important details that many of us have missed is rare and valuable. This care and attention raise the quality of the work our team delivers and reinforces our overall reputation for delivering quality work. 

 I saw how you stepped up to solve our scheduling challenge and was impressed with the simplicity of the solution you built and shared. It has made scheduling so much easier for the team and has freed up time to focus on our priorities.  I appreciate that.   


Know what and when   

Not everybody welcomes the spotlight. We like to receive appreciation in different ways.  Some would relish receiving appreciation at a team meeting, whereas others prefer a quiet one-to-one conversation or a hand-written note. So it’s important for leaders to know how each team member prefers to be recognized.  Questions to ask yourself:

  • What would be a meaningful compliment to each team member? 
  • How would they best receive appreciation? Public or private?      
  • How can I find out? 

Let people know they are valuable  

We have an innate need to be seen, heard and understood. Appreciation not only motivates and engages us and helps us learn, but it also acknowledges our strengths, value and impact.

In the last seven days, have you received praise or recognition for doing good work?

This is one of the Gallup Q12 Engagement questions and it suggests appreciation should be frequent.

  • What valuable strengths/behaviours are you witnessing in your team members? 
  • Who can you appreciate this week?
  • How can you make this a frequent habit?

As we continue to operate in a prolonged uncertain and complex world and navigate our distributed and tumultuous workplace, many of us are working hard and are also feeling disconnected, overwhelmed and exhausted.

Let people know they are appreciated.

It will make a difference.

Looking to build your Leadership Skills and bring more appreciation to your organization? Talk to us about our training options.  Contact us.

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