Do you ever get the feeling that something is missing from your communication with other people, especially the ones you love? Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable, but cannot put your finger on why? Do other people seem like something is not quite working for them in the way you talk to them?
Well, I do.
There I am, having a nice conversation with someone, and then, all of a sudden, I feel like the subject has changed and the conversation has changed direction. This is often hard to detect, which makes me stop listening and backtrack a bit to see if I can spot the problem (of course, not listening makes things worse temporarily, so I try to be quick about it).
In many cases, I find that there has been no acknowledgment. Something I have said remains un-addressed – it has neither been confirmed nor rejected. This makes me wonder if what I have said has been missed or ignore.
When I am the one forgetting to acknowledge, it takes a lot longer to figure it out, either because the other person is not aware of the problem or because the friction keeps escalating and this little issue is completely forgotten until I have some quiet time to replay the conversation and figure things out.
Research shows that appreciation is the top factor in determining job satisfaction. Salary increases have a short-term effect, but sincere acknowledgment, particularly in public, can last for a very long time and cause employees to sacrifice time, money and comfort for the manager and/or the company that values them.
Research also shows that acknowledgment is more important to dissatisfied customers than any other compensation. When money is offered to compensate for bad service or faulty product, customers feel as if their emotional discomfort is being ignored and the company is only looking at them in terms of money. However, when companies apologize, either verbally or in writing, and shows evidence of sincerity (this is critical) by addressing the person and the issue, customers are happier, even if no money is returned to them.
Still, in many human interactions, acknowledgment is often forgotten. Here are some examples of missing acknowledgments you may regard as just a normal part of our daily rituals, but they still illustrate the point:
Sally: I’ve had a really rough day today.
Bob: Yeah, me too.
Despite Bob’s expression of a similar feeling, possibly in an attempt to reflect understanding, Sally refers to her day, while Bob refers to his own day, which is another matter entirely. Most likely, Sally is looking for an invitation to share her day, but such an invitation is not extended. Instead, the emotional needs’ scale is balanced with Bob’s rough day, which may cause Sally to conclude that Bob is not available to support her.
The emotion in this exchange can also be positive, as in “I’m so happy it’s Saturday”, “Yeah, me too”, but when there is emotional pressure, the lack of acknowledgment is a lot more likely to start simmering and eventually escalate to friction.
Here is another example:
Doris: Have a nice day!
Lilly: You too.
Doris was the first person to say something nice and this is returned with no sign of appreciation with a token response. Saying, “Thanks, you too”, would show that Lilly valued Doris’ wish and her attention.
Little Charlie: I love you.
Mom: I love you too.
In a presentation I saw once (I think it was on TEDx), the speaker tells about her grandson who came to her and said, “Granny, I love you”. When she said, “I love you too”, he held her face in his hands, looked her in the eyes and said, “No, Granny, I love you”. The grandson knew she loved him. What he wanted was confirmation that she felt his love.
But these are not likely to cause any major dramas, are they? No, but dramas can be caused when similar exchanges involve housework, working hours, fulfilling each other’s requests and investing in the relationship. For example:
Lucas: I work long hours every day for this family.
Mary: Well, I stay home and take care of everything else. Now, come over here and help me move the furniture.
Well, Mary may be right, but responding like this leaves both of them feeling unappreciated. Regardless of how hard Mary works, Lucas’ efforts and contribution are important and deserve recognition. By skipping over the acknowledgment of his value to the family and presenting her housework as a counter to his job, she creates a competition and puts them at opposite ends.
It takes little effort to say, “I know you do, honey, and I appreciate you for it. Can you just help me move the furniture, please?” Being acknowledged for his work means that moving the furniture will also be appreciated, which makes it worth the trouble.
When I showed this example to Ronit, she pointed out that Lucas could have acknowledged Mary’s desire to move the furniture and the fact she was doing it for everyone’s benefit by saying something like, “Look, dear, I can see you really want to do this, but I’m really tired. Can I do it in half an hour, after I’ve had a bit of a rest?”
So you see, we all miss acknowledgments, even when we right about them…
Confirmation (agreement) is another form of acknowledgment. We often agree on some points, but not on others.
Tom: But honey, I thought you liked to go camping.
Betty: I’m not going and that’s that.
Tom may be a lot easier to convince to change the family travel plans if the disagreement was not on a personal level. Assuming Betty really likes to go camping in general, both Tom and Betty would feel closer together if Betty said, “Well, I do like camping, but this time, <some explanation>”.
When you think back to the last conflict you have had with your partner, was there anything you could have acknowledged, confirmed or appreciated? Was there anything you would have said or done differently if your contribution was accepted into the discussion before moving on?
I can tell you from experience that both of these happen to me. I have also found out that if, after a bit of enlightening contemplation, I communicate my agreement or appreciation to the other person, it helps relieve the tension and resume the conversation.
The appreciation is there. The agreement is there. We just need to make them clear and our human interactions will be a lot smoother.
Thank you for reading,