Recently a dear friend in my life and I were talking about the difference between and the importance of both acknowledgement and appreciation in relationship with another; how the give and take of a relationship is less about measurement and perfectly balanced scales than it is about taking the time to show appreciation for acts of loving kindness through the simple act of acknowledgement. As I mulled these thoughts around in my head, I kept silently see-sawing between what it means to selflessly give without expectation and our very real and human need and desire to feel acknowledged and appreciated, an endeavor that in some ways I excel at, yet in other ways fall well short of the mark.
Just this week, for example, I have been struggling to tackle the mounds of personal papers in my home office, stacked up and put off to be dealt with another day. In the purging of all of this clutter, stacks of written, yet unsent cards were unearthed…the best of intentions rendered meaningless - for the intended recipient never heard my words, never received an acknowledgement, and never felt my thanks. Worse still are the notes my children took time to write for gifts received, but which I failed to send on their behalf. Yes, guilty as charged.
Recently, this topic of acknowledgement and appreciation has surfaced in other facets of my life, as I’ve found myself observing patterns of behavior, not just in my personal relationships, but in professional circles, too. This topic, after all, is not only about what we do in response to loving acts of kindness, but in how we interact with others in our day-to-day lives.
I have one professional friend and ally, for example, who regardless of schedule, always manages to find the time to acknowledge emails within the day, even if only in a few words, though you may have to wait patiently if you’re hoping for a long conversation by phone. Still, without exception, this friend recognizes, values, and finds a way to balance the need for honoring connection with others, while setting and maintaining boundaries in his own personal and professional life. It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, but one I both admire and respect.
On the other hand, there are those others, who, despite their intellectual understanding of the importance of connection, fail to remember that influencing change does not just happen in a classroom or office setting or within the confines of ivory towers, but in our every day encounters with others; that real leadership happens in real life, through the values we live every day. While it’s true that not everyone is interested in establishing connection or building relationship with others, it’s equally true that we are nevertheless measured and judged by our interactions with others, and oftentimes these seemingly random and meaningless interactions can have a far-reaching impact, for good or for ill, extending well beyond what the eye can readily see.
Take the simple act of returning emails and phone calls as an example. Sure, we all get busy with the business of life and need to set healthy boundaries with others if we hope to be productive. Sometimes we even flake out, forget, or lose an important message; but the patterns of time reveal our true values, and when we consistently fail to do the simple things, regardless of intent, the resulting message is the same: You are not important to me. Ouch! And yes, the bold is for emphasis, but isn’t that how we often feel when we are ignored?
Alternatively, the simple act of acknowledgement and appreciation, even if only expressed in a few words, creates opportunity for connection, builds bridges of understanding, closes gaps, heals wounds, and opens doorways to paths that might otherwise remain closed to us. When we take the time to acknowledge and give thanks to another, we not only say, “I SEE you,” but by way of the gift of our time and attention, we communicate to the other, “YOU are important to ME.”
Who and what do you invest your time in? Do you take time to acknowledge and appreciate others in your life? Are you better at acknowledging some over others? If so, is it because you tend to take those ‘others’ for granted? When you give of your time, talents or money, are you able to do so selflessly, without the expectation of reciprocity or acknowledgement? When you are not acknowledged, what message do you receive? What is one thing you could do today to show appreciation for others in your life?