Are There Times When You Should NOT Communicate Appreciation?

October 17, 2022 9:00 am Published by

Our business is built around encouraging leaders and colleagues to show appreciation to their coworkers and training teams to do so effectively. But there are times and situations when we recommend not communicating appreciation (or, at least, waiting). Sometimes, encouraging your colleagues is not the best course of action to take. In fact, doing so at the wrong time can actually backfire and create more problems.

Here are some circumstances when you should reconsider whether or not to proactively communicate appreciation to those with whom you work:

  • When a relationship is tense. If you are in a work relationship that has been tense in the past, trying to communicate appreciation without acknowledging the previous issues will most likely lead to a cool reception of the message, as well as questions about your authenticity.
  • When the receiver of your appreciation has been “burned” by others. Unfortunately, a number of people have had difficult lives – growing up in dysfunctional families, experiencing abusive relationships, or being mistreated by previous employers. Individuals who have experienced these situations are often self-protective and distrustful. They see any positive actions by others as an attempt to take advantage of them. In these cases, take extra time to establish some trust with them.
  • When you change too quickly. While it is good to implement positive changes, some individuals may change their behavior too abruptly – to the point that others around them don’t recognize this “new person.” For instance, a formerly cool, distant supervisor might try too hard to be more outgoing and warmer and praise their team members more, but it seems to others that they are being insincere.
  • When your communication varies significantly in different settings. If you chew out one of your team members in private conversation and then later praise them in front of others, you can appear two-faced and as if you are only trying to impress others, especially if the message is given in front of higher-ups.
  • When your words say one thing and your non-verbal communication says another. It’s a little like the child who is forced by their parents to say, “I’m sorry,” when their tone of voice, lack of eye contact, and angry expression don’t convince you they mean it. Expressing appreciation when you don’t really appreciate the other person will typically show in facial expression and tone of voice, and come across as insincere.
  • When the message of appreciation follows staff layoffs or pay reductions. When an organization or company has to downsize because of financial difficulties, or if staff salaries have had to be reduced, efforts at encouragement or being upbeat will fall flat. Employees are hurting, anxious, and fearful for the future, and may be grieving the loss of close colleagues. If a supervisor tries to be overly positive in the midst of difficult times, they can be perceived as insensitive, disingenuous and fake.

How do you avoid these pitfalls?

  1. Check your motives. Try to only communicate authentic, genuine appreciation. Don’t do it “because you are supposed to.”

  2. Be aware of context. While expressing appreciation or encouragement is usually beneficial, there are times it can sting and waiting is a better choice.

  3. Check in with a trusted colleague. If in doubt – either about your timing, your message, or how you might be received – first touch base with someone who knows you and the situation well, and who will give you honest feedback. They may be able to give you some tips on how or when would be best to share your message.

  4. If in doubt, wait. Almost always, taking time to assess a situation and make sure that the message will be received well is worth the wait. A delayed message communicated well and received well is far better than a rushed message that misfires.

Who is most at risk for trying to communicate appreciation when they shouldn’t? Leaders and colleagues who are blindly going through the motions of showing appreciation to others (like they are checking off a box on their to-do list) without paying attention to their true feelings (or lack of them). And individuals who are almost religiously committed to being positive and showing appreciation, while ignoring the context of the situation or circumstances. Take a moment to stop, check your motives and assess what is going on in the person’s life and your response will almost always be appropriate.

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October 17, 2022 9:00 am


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