authenticity and appreciation
Two laughing mannequins wearing suits, in front of a store window.

Expressing appreciation to someone will only benefit the two of you if they believe you really mean what you say. They must believe that your appreciation is authentic.

The risk in writing this post is that someone will misuse it to try to make their appreciation seem more authentic than it really is. That’s not what I’m trying to accomplish!! What I want to do is help you avoid undermining your authentic expression of appreciation in the eyes of the recipient.

In terms of authenticity and appreciation:

  1. Only the person giving appreciation can know with certainty if they are being authentic or not. They know their motivations and how much they really believe what they are expressing. For the giver of appreciation, authenticity is reality-based.
  2. For the person receiving appreciation, they cannot know with certainty what is going on inside the head of the person giving appreciation. They can only make a judgment based on their interpretation of previous history with the person and how convincingly that aligns with the appreciation now being received. For the recipient of appreciation, authenticity is perception-based.

Developing Your Perceived Authenticity

If someone doubts the authenticity of your appreciation when you really are being authentic, other than being very clear about telling them what they did and why it touched you so much that you want to tell them you appreciate it, there isn’t much you can do in the moment. Be gracious and leave it at that.

The solution to helping people see you as the authentic person you really are is to help them see you as authentic, consistently, over time. So:

  • Be genuine, expressing care and concern, always meaning what you say, and never having hidden, ulterior motives.
  • Be transparent and vulnerable to the appropriate degree. The more people think they know who you really are, the more they will believe you. This is why leaders tell stories about themselves. It isn’t that they are self-centred. What drives their story-telling is the desire for their team members to better understand them – what has shaped them, what their values are, how they make choices.
  • Be sure that your actions always align with your words.

When it comes to expressing appreciation,

  • Ensure you only give appreciation when you really mean it
  • If you tend to express appreciation a lot, maybe cut back a bit. If you appreciate everything, especially things others might regard as trivial, your appreciation will soon come to mean nothing.
  • Be appreciative when you don’t have to be. There are times when social norms demand an expression of appreciation, such as at retirement parties or when a gift is received. In situations where there is no social pressure or formal requirement for appreciation, your voluntary appreciation will be more believable.

One factor that makes appreciation different from recognition is that recognition is based solely on performance. Appreciation, while similarly triggered by performance, is much more about an enduring trait of the person. In other words, recognition is about what the person did and appreciation is more about who the person is.

  • A person might catch an error in some work. You can thank them for catching the error and maybe nominate them for a recognition program, but you can have more impact by expressing appreciation for their consistent attention to details.
  • Someone may have helped a family through a critical crisis. Again, there might be a recognition program for what they did, but you can also show appreciation for their empathy and patience which equipped them to handle the situation so well.

You will come across as more authentic when you show deeper understanding of the enduring qualities that are the foundation for the person’s success.

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Authenticity will also be more apparent when you aren’t fixated on appreciating just one personal trait. When you show appreciation for a variety of traits it means you are really thinking about the person, and not relying on a stereotype you have developed of that person. If you can think of four or five traits to appreciate in a person, it increases the likelihood that you will see at least one thing to appreciate about them every day or two.

You could also, at a later time, tell the person, “I was just thinking about it again, and wanted to say how much I really do appreciate…” Going out of your way (when it is unnecessary) to stress the appreciation tells the person that your appreciation wasn’t just a fleeting thought, but was real enough that you are still thinking about it some time later.

General or vague appreciation may be real, but is more likely to come across as insincere. So you want specific examples to connect to the general trait you are appreciating. You must actively look for things to appreciate and have an eye for detail. For instance, receiving a report on time may trigger an expression of appreciation. That’s fine – that’s individualized and specific. But what makes it really authentic and memorable for the receiver is for you to look at the report and find something even more specific in it to appreciate. For example, the logic of the layout, the design of an infographic, or the extra graphic design to draw your attention to an important fact are all deeper, less obvious things, and pointing them out will add punch and depth to the appreciation.

People who wait passively until something impresses them will likely miss a lot of opportunities to appreciate staff.

Key Idea: Authenticity requires consistency and transparency.

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