The Art of Acknowledgment

The Art of Acknowledgement

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

When was the last time you told someone what you appreciated about them? Did you take the time to see what they contribute to you and others and describe it in a way they could take it in?

Today we look at the art of acknowledgment. According to the dictionary, art is a “skill for doing a specific thing, typically acquired through practice.” A well-placed acknowledgment can generate trust and the feeling in the receiver that they are valued members of the group, family, or business. In other words, a well-placed acknowledgment will make the recipient feel valued and accepted. And that, according to Maya Angelou, is what they will remember about you!

When you acknowledge someone, you aren’t paying them a compliment. The definition of compliment is to “politely congratulate or praise someone for something.” When you compliment someone:

  • You are pointing to something they did. For example, “That was a great meal! I especially liked the Greek salad.”
  • You’re giving them feedback about the way they look. Example: “You look so professional in that green blouse!”
  • You’re noticing something they’ve taken the time to create: “Every time we walk past your home, I’m delighted to see all of the beautiful flowers you’ve planted in your garden!”

On the other hand, an acknowledgment goes deeper into describing what the other person does and how they contribute to you, the team, family, or community. You are indicating something about the person that will probably stay with them  longer. 

So, without further ado, here’s how to create and deliver an acknowledgment that will land and last in the recipient’s heart. Whether you’re a leader, teacher, parent, or friend, the “art” is in how you offer it to the recipient. 

First, ask yourself why you want to acknowledge the person at this moment. You might want them to relax and experience trust if you’re a leader. You may not have spoken to them in a while and want them to remember how much you value them. It’s clear from scientific research that when a person relaxes, their amygdala ceases to fire, allowing them to think more clearly and creatively.

In truth, there are many different reasons to acknowledge someone. Just be clear about your purpose. That’s a defining feature of a well-placed acknowledgment. For it to be maximally effective, you must first be clear about the reason. If you’re their coach and you sense they’re having a difficult time with a particular project, you may want them to see they have what it takes to reach their goal. If you’re unclear about your reason, it may fall flat and not get into their heart, where a well-placed acknowledgment belongs.

Next, acknowledge who they are rather than simply what they’ve done. For example:

  • Bring up the specific qualities they bring to the team, group, family, or coaching session. Are they courageous, supportive, generous, creative, kind, or empowering? 
  • Point to the way(s) you can tell they demonstrate those qualities. “I could tell by the way you spoke to Jim on our team that you wanted to support him to succeed on this project.” Or: “It’s clear to me as your coach how generous you are with your sister in the way you talk about money with her. I can tell how much you love her.”
  • Let them know how you feel when you see them doing this. “I’m grateful to be your leader.“ “I’m honored to be your coach.” 

Above all, keep acknowledgments short, sweet, and to the point. You don’t want to “overload” the other person with too many words. That can cause them to shut down or push back on what you’re trying to do.

Try this out. Let me know what you experience! See you next time!

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”


Wishing you all my best,

Dr. Maria Nemeth signature

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