The Value of Acknowledgement

A mother asks her teenager to please lay the table. She receives no response. Twenty minutes later it still hasn’t been done. Now what? Was the request heard? Was the teenager busy or just preoccupied? Is he still intending to do it? Mom, herself once a teenager – she reminds herself, ends up setting the table herself.

Some time ago there was a request for a proposal from us to conduct a specific training programme. I compiled the customised proposal, PDF’d it and emailed it through. A few days later I’d had no acknowledgement, so I forwarded a request to acknowledge receipt. The answer came back “Thanks. It is with management to make a decision.” Two weeks later I again followed up. This time “decision is still in progress”. That was a few months ago and I’m still waiting. This practice is, unfortunately rife in business.

In days gone by, the art of acknowledgement was considered such an integral part of one’s upbringing that one was taught to say “please” and “thank you”, and to greet other people and show respect to one’s elders. It is still taught, but as enforcement becomes more challenging, sadly these pleasantries are gradually disappearing from many cultures. And with these changes, we become less effective at communicating clearly, more prone to assume, and a lot more prone to frustration.

Taking the time to acknowledge accomplishments and kindness is one of the most important tenets of leadership

Thanking someone immediately serves two functions. It shows gratitude and acknowledges the deed. Replying to a personalised letter, fax, email or other message indicates that you’ve received it and gives you the opportunity of thanking the person for taking the trouble to do what was asked of them. Thanking Mom or wife for the meal you’ve just consumed confirms your enjoyment and acknowledges that her efforts are appreciated. It will more than likely motivate her just a little when she has to repeat the deed the next day, and the next.

The growing problem of lack of acknowledgement is now rife in homes, organisations and everywhere else you can think of and forms part of the greater management problem of being quick to correct or criticise, but slow to catch people doing something right – which is far more likely to motivate them. It creates communication blocks, misunderstanding and strife. Decades ago one may have heard the following:

“Didn’t you get my fax?”
“What fax? When?”

The fax was assumed received because it was sent. But the receiver never acknowledged and the sender didn’t check. Result: delay, irritation, distrust etc. Today acknowledgement is no longer expected as everyone receives a deluge of spam via email. But what about the instances when you specifically requested information from someone and they had the decency to respond? Doesn’t that warrant acknowledgement?

This scenario is not always going to be avoided by trying to remember to acknowledge, but rather by developing the habit of acknowledgement.

We like to have our efforts acknowledged, yet often forget to acknowledge the efforts of others. It’s not because we’re “bad” or thoughtless, it’s just that the habit of acknowledgement is disappearing from our culture.

Here is a summary of some benefits of developing an acknowledgement habit:

  • It lets the other person know that you’ve heard them, received the email etc.
  • It validates the other person and/or their effort.
  • It gives you the peace of mind that the other person knows.
  • It puts an obligation on the other person to take action or it motivates them.
  • It allows you to follow up knowing that the other person knows.
  • It indicates to the other person that you are efficient and polite, thus establishing your credibility.
  • It demostrates initiative and thus clearly separates the leader from the follower.

Whenever my friend Henry passes by a person performing a cleaning function, he always makes a point of stopping to thank them for keeping the place so neat and tidy. It’s noteworthy that the person he has just complimented never ever fails to smile broadly! He does this for no selfish reason, but invariably walks away feeling good himself.

Next time someone does something for you, remember to acknowledge them. It’s quite remarkable how much people will do for you if they simply know that it’s appreciated. Acknowledgement as a way of life is an extremely valuable habit to cultivate, bringing with it far more benefits than may casually meet the eye.

Paul du Toit, CSP, GSF, SASHoF

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