Would you like those you work with to be more productive?
Would you like your intimate relationships to be more harmonious?
Would you like to be happier?
Luckily there’s one simple practice that can help you to have all this and more.
Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, popularized the phrase, “What we appreciate, appreciates.” In other words, focusing positive energy creates more positive energy.
Many of us were raised on critique. We learned to scan for what’s wrong and what needs to be improved. Critique is obviously a valuable skill, but unless balanced by appreciation, it can deflate and discourage rather than inspiring change.
“Appreciation” is not a touchy feely New Age practice. It is a well-researched, well-documented, practical principle for more productive work, better relationships, and a happier life.
The Appreciative Inquiry Process is a great tool to unleash the positive power of appreciation in a professional setting (more on that at the end of the post), but there are lots of other ways to practice appreciation.
Appreciation at Work
It’s important to point out to our staff and colleagues what they need to do to improve. Yet extensive research shows that positive feedback is even more important. A survey of 20,000 employees in 29 countries showed:
- Reviews and informal feedback emphasizing performance strengths were linked to a 36% increase in performance
- Reviews and informal feedback emphasizing performance weaknesses were linked to a 27% decrease in performance.
What’s the right balance of critique and appreciation? There’s actually a formula. In order to elicit the best performance from staff, managers should maintain a minimum ratio of four offerings of positive feedback to one piece of corrective feedback. (This can’t become an excuse for failing to point out weaknesses or failures. If the ratio becomes more than 13 to 1, performance starts going down.)
If you supervise people in your job, remember this 4-1 ratio!
A study of 150 major corporations found the single most important reason employees leave a company is limited recognition and praise (34%). Insufficient compensation was second at 29%.
Research also shows the equal importance of appreciation in successful work teams. Researchers tracked the ratio of positive comments (e.g. “That’s a good idea”) to negative comments (e.g. “I don’t agree with you). The highest performing teams averaged nearly six positive comments for every negative one. The average for the low-performing teams was almost three negative comments for every positive one.
Appreciation at Home
If you are in a relationship, there’s an appreciation formula for that too. John Gottman is a leading researcher into what makes for successful marriages/partnerships. By studying thousands of couples, his team is now able to predict which relationships will fail or succeed based solely on the ratio of positive affirming comments to negative comments.
In the world of love relationships, the ratio is 5-1. That is the ratio of positive interactions to negative ones that predicts whether a marriage or partnership will last.
A tip: Don’t save your appreciations for “big” or “special” things your partner does. Every single day, there are many opportunities to bestow simple words of praise that will make you and your partner feel good. One of the greatest gifts you can give your partner is appreciation. And it’s free! Appreciation feels as good to give as it does to receive, and it’s contagious. What we appreciative really does appreciate.
Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.– Margaret Cousins
Appreciation and you
Throughout history, all religions have preached the importance of gratitude.
Let’s do an experiment. Right now: Name for yourself 10 things you’re grateful for.
Actually do this. At least 10. Right now!
What do you notice after doing this practice?
Feels good, right? Appreciation and gratitude for the circumstances of our lives has transformative effects even beyond our state of mind. Research shows that those who practice gratitude:
- Have significantly more positive emotions and satisfaction with life
- Feel more optimistic about the future
- Feel “closer and more connected to others”
- Have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and “experience fewer health complaints and fewer symptoms of physical illness”
- Get “more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening”
- Are more supportive, more generous and kinder to others
“We’re not grateful because we’re happy. We’re happy because we’re grateful.” Brother David Stendl-Rast, Catholic mystic & author
Practice appreciation for the gifts of your life.
Offer appreciation to those you love—remember the 5-1 ratio!
Appreciate your staff and colleagues—at least 4-1!
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation.” The Dalai Lama
To unleash the power of appreciation with your teams and organizations, see our tool, Appreciative Inquiry Process. Appreciative Inquiry is a well-established model to create group cohesion, shared vision, and strategic change. Our tool serves as a good introduction, but if you want to go deeper there are lots of other tools out there to explore.