An Ounce of Prevention: How Regular Recognition Can Prevent Unnecessary Conflict

Carla Rieger

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"People want recognition. People will sometimes work very conscientiously in hard conditions if they get the proper recognition. " - From “Recognition vital to keeping workers content” - Management Volume 24 No 1, January 1999.

A common thing in most organizations is to give people feedback when they are doing something wrong. When your teenager is talking on a phone instead of doing the dishes, you remind her of your agreement. When your spouse leaves his clothes all over the floor, you tell him how it annoys you. When one of your co-workers does something unsafe on the job, your job is to point it out. These are all valid communications. The problem comes when they only hear the negative, and don't also get to hear the positive.

Some people say “I don't want recognition, it would feel awkward, " or managers who say, “If you don't get any feedback, then consider yourself lucky, either you're doing it right, or you're just not getting caught. "

The truth is deep down everyone wants to be appreciated, and to know specifically when they are doing a good job. They actually need to be reminded often that they make a difference to the running of a company, to a family, or to any kind of community they belong to. We often see people around us contributing in wonderful ways, but we don't bother saying anything. Have you ever put in your best effort, worked extremely hard under difficult conditions, and then received no appreciation? Or worse, felt criticized? According to surveys we have done with many organizations and communities, this is a common feeling.

Perhaps you are aware of the Darwin Awards. They are (by definition) granted posthumously. This citation is bestowed upon (the remains of) that individual, who through single-minded self-sacrifice, has done the most to remove undesirable elements from the human gene pool.

Here is an example of a Darwin Award winner. A Psychology student was researching the effects of nagging on people. She put in an ad for a roommate. A young man moved in and she began her research. Each day she nagged him about something and then made a note of his response. As the weeks went by, she increased the frequency and duration of the nagging, each time she noticed that the response increased. She became so fascinated by her research that she kept it up even after her paper was due. Finally, he killed her with a baseball bat.

I tell this story not to promote black humor (although it is rather funny), but to illustrate the fact that people generally do not respond well to on-going criticism. This is common sense to most of us. However, the opposite is also very true. Regular recognition creates a web of goodwill that can see you through the tough times.

As a teenager, my stepson had the job of taking out the garbage. He would often conveniently forget - even when we put it right outside his bedroom. We decided to stop nagging him, and instead only give him feedback when he did take the garbage out. In the beginning this opportunity never arose. However, one day to our surprise he took the garbage out of his own accord. His father and I thanked him. Next time, we thanked him again and told him it made a big difference for us when he helped like that. After that we noticed he took the garbage out more and more frequently. Now, at twenty-three when he visits he immediately asks what he can do to help!

A man named Mike Phillips, who owns a textile mill in South Africa, wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his company. He got very inspired by a story in the book, Managing to Have Fun, by Matt Weinstein. He decided to put on what he called a magical mystery tour. He closed down the mill, and took all his employees out to a shopping mall. He gave them the equivalent of $200 in Rand, and sent them out with these instructions. He said “This is your money. I own this company. But anything you can buy for yourself in the next hour using this money is yours to keep. " He said, “Here are the rules. You can buy as many different things as you like. They all have to be for you personally, and any money unspent after an hour comes back to me. Go get em!"

He said, it was like a madhouse. There were people running through the mall, throwing things up in the air, screaming out their bargains to each other. In fact, the people working in the stores were saying to his employees “What company do you work for? I've got to quit my job and start working for your company!"

He said one of the custodial employees started buying things for her children, and the other employees stopped her, and made her put those things back. They forced her to buy a leather jacket for herself. It was the first time she had ever spent money on a luxury item for herself.

In the middle of this whole shopping spree, the union shop steward came up to him and said, “If you're going to start treating us like this, we're going to start looking at you a little bit differently from now on. "

The next month, there was a national strike of all the textile mills in the entire country of South Africa, and only one of them did not go out on strike. . . his company. He totally attributed it to this one gesture that completely transformed the tone between management and staff, because they began to feel, “Here's someone who cares about us as something more than just a paycheck. "

Recognition can humanize an environment, mitigate conflict and create an invisible web of goodwill. That web can be the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.

Carla Rieger is an expert on creative people skills at work. If you want a motivational speaker, trainer, or leadership coach to help you stay on the creative edge, contact Carla Rieger.

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