The Surprising Power of Simple Appreciation – A Negotiator’s Secret

“The deepest principle in human nature
is the need to be appreciated.”
– William James (1842-1920) Psychologist, Philosopher

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: For over twenty years Karrina had worked in the Corporate Philanthropy Department of one of Seattle’s largest art museums. Over that time, she had risen from the department’s receptionist to its number two person in “Sponsorship Giving,” in which a corporate donor underwrites the costs of an extended exhibit of a famous artist, and in return enjoys significant publicity and prestige. Over the years Karrina developed close ties to many Board Members of large corporations headquartered in the Northwestern U.S. Her knowledge of the art world, her social skills and her even temperament all contributed to her considerable success. She knew “the way things worked,” and worked well in “that way.”

Unfortunately, the “way things worked” was changing. Increasingly, art museums around the world were working together to assemble exhibits of especially famous artists, who drew the largest crowds of museum visitors. Because the costs of these exhibits were so much larger than were the showings of less famous artists, searches for corporate sponsors were increasingly made on a national and international level, far beyond the Northwestern U.S. In these efforts, collaborating art museums increasingly used the services of the few consultants who did this sort of work, most of whom worked in New York, London, Frankfurt and Tokyo. These larger corporate sponsorship searches were simply “out of Karrina’s league.” Not surprisingly, one day Karrina’s boss, Tomas, gave her a “heads up” and suggested to her that she would be smart to begin looking elsewhere for a job.

Karrina’s response was a common one for an employee: a mixture of concern, defensiveness and anger. She was troubled about whether she could get a job elsewhere, especially considering her limited education. She wondered whether she might have been chosen for job elimination because of her gender. She knew that, whatever the reason for her job loss, she didn’t deserve to lose her job after 20 years of service, with two kids about to enter college. Karrina was quick to share these feelings with Tomas, and his boss, as well, and even asked her colleagues how much they thought it would cost to hire a lawyer to represent her.

In turn, Tomas’s response was a common one for employers: his own mixture of concern, defensiveness and anger, from the employer’s perspective. Tomas knew in his heart that he was merely responding to a changing environment in corporate philanthropy, and that Karrina’s gender was not a factor in her being chosen for job elimination, but instead the result of careful, objective analysis of the department’s needs and resources. He also knew he didn’t deserve to be accused of anything improper. Still he was very concerned about Karrina, but had a job he had to do. Tomas shared his concerns with his own boss, who responded to him, in effect, “Do what you have to do, but please leave me out of this.” Tomas considered, too, how the spectacle of a public lawsuit could damage the museum’s reputation, as well as his own, and the price of hiring a law firm.

When Karrina contacted us for a telephone consultation, we shared with her our view that she was probably about to be fired, and seemed in the process of leaving herself no alternative but to enter into an adversarial lawsuit. She told us she expected the worst, and was prepared for it. We also shared with her the error of choosing to be adversarial from the outset. Instead, we urged her to try, first, to use the “surprising power of appreciation.”

We explained to Karrina that in the workplace (as in the rest of society), we try to change things for the better by a process called “negotiation.” We explained to her, too, that we view “negotiation” as a matter of “motivation,” that is, motivating the person who will make crucial decisions about our lives to make the decisions we seek. Said more succinctly, “negotiation is a matter of motivation.” We explained that we can “motivate” the “decision-makers” in our work lives by two things, risk and reward (sometimes referred to as “carrot and stick.”) And finally, we explained to Karrina that, once we try “stick,” it’s hard to go back to “carrot,” so we always start first with “carrot.”

You might say we gave Karrina a short course in our SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method of negotiating at work. Of special importance in the power of the SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method is its observation that “people want to be appreciated, and so expressions of appreciation are potent negotiating tools.” Yes, there is a surprising power in simple appreciation at work. All good negotiators know that, and use that, to their advantage.

That very same day Karrina called Tomas, and told him three things: (1) She recognized that he meant her no personal harm, but instead was only doing what he had to do; (2) She understood that she could be of greater help to him in accomplishing this distasteful task by working with him, instead of working against him; and (3) She appreciated that, in turn, Tomas would be more capable of helping her in her own transition if she worked with him, instead of working against him. Tomas was silent for a moment, and responded to her, in a hushed and very relieved tone, “I am so glad you called today, and said what you just did. I had planned to fire you tomorrow.”

Tomas then expressed to Karrina that he did have some discretion in the way he was to go about eliminating her position, and could use her help in reassuring the corporate Board Members who she knew that this was a good thing for everyone. With Karrina on his side – in fact, with Karrina working to help him in this process – Tomas felt he could do his best for Karrina, as well. He knew one thing for sure: he would rather give Karrina extra severance, if necessary, than give it to the museum’s lawyers to fight charges against him and the department. Tomas got the authority from his boss to have Karrina stay on for seven months, until the end of the calendar year, to accomplish this worthwhile task.

Karrina did end up leaving the Corporate Sponsorship department, but not in the way she and Tomas originally envisaged. While working with Tomas to reassure her corporate board contacts, as agreed, she was approached by three of them and asked if she might be interested in helping form a coalition of sorts of corporate boards to help them pool their museum contributions, to get their best, collective “bang for the buck.” Corporate Boards, it seems, were aware of the trend toward national and international sponsoring, too, and were considering their own ways of dealing with the phenomenon. Their choice: to pool efforts. Thus, Karrina became employed, and at the same time became a “very important person” to the museum, through her negotiation based on “the surprising power of simple appreciation.” Without it, she would have been unemployed, angry and in an expensive legal fight. With it, she changed the dynamic from negative to positive, the results of a smart and successful negotiation.

Karrina keeps in touch with us periodically, and has several times expressed her amazement at how effective and how adaptive this “negotiator’s secret” is. Because expressing appreciation is so rare, and especially rare when receiving bad news, it is counter-intuitive, yet is carries with it the power to reverse a seemingly irreversible problem. Appreciation works to turn potentially negative dynamics into positive, productive ones, and it works in many different situations.

LESSON TO LEARN: Observation One: While everyone wants to be appreciated, very few people express appreciation in the normal course of the day. Observation Two: In difficult circumstances, especially when delivering bad news, absolutely no one expects to hear words of appreciation in response. Observation Three: It is in the most difficult situations that you need the most surprising and powerful “motivators” on your side. It is for these three reasons that the simple expression of appreciation carries such unexpected power in workplace matters.

Remember that “I want . . . I need . . . and I deserve” do not motivate people. They actually de-motivate people, especially people who act as “providers,” such as parents and employers. What motivates people, especially “providers,” is what “They want . . . they need . . . and they deserve.” Near the top of that list for most people is appreciation. Consider how you feel in the rare moments your children or your colleagues express their appreciation for your efforts on their behalf.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try using the surprising power of simple appreciation on your job, especially in the difficult moments. It is smart, sophisticated, unexpected, and entails little, if any, risk. Consider these pointers on the use of expressions of appreciation as a negotiating secret at work, with supervisors, colleagues, subordinates and clients:

1. Whether “Half-Full” or “Half-Empty,” Be Glad You Have a Glass, at All: It all starts with your own view of life, and work as part of that life. Starting with each day with the “good news” that you are alive, you are employed, and have a home, can make the difficulties and “bad news” experienced each day at work so much easier to accept and withstand.

2. Remember that the Absence of Expression of Appreciation is Corrosive: Mother Teresa said, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” It is important to realize that the failure to express appreciation can be corrosive to any working relation, and increasingly de-motivating if the failure persists over time. Nearly every day people feel petty slights and emotional trauma, whether real or perceived; the failure to periodically apply positive medicine to such small abrasions can lead to major complications, even the death of an otherwise productive dynamic. And being appreciative is not enough; expressions of that appreciation are necessary. Failing to express appreciation is self-defeating; our thesaurus defines “ingrate” as “one who bites the hand that feeds him.”

3. Expressions of Appreciation Should Be Used on a Regular Basis: While bonuses are generally paid out once a year as rewards for past efforts, and as incentives for future efforts, expressions of appreciation accomplish both objectives, cost nothing, are cherished by recipients, and can be delivered on a daily basis. Considering their low cost and high value, they are extremely underutilized. Because expressions of appreciation are so unconventional and uncommon, thus literally “outside the box,” they are more valuable than understood. It’s been known for a long time by motivational experts and psychologists who advise on workplace issues that appreciation is in strong demand and short supply, and thus considered very valuable by subordinates.

4. An “Attitude of Gratitude” is a Primary Promotion Motivator: Superiors, especially, place great value on expressions of appreciation and support for them and their efforts. While an employee’s achievement of his or her goals is considered an objective measure of value in the workplace, subjectively there is nothing like the “attitude of gratitude” to propel an employee upward, toward promotion. It’s common knowledge that “Whiners are rarely winners.”

5. Expressions of Appreciation are Especially Soothing in Difficult Times: The reason expressions of thankfulness, gratitude and appreciation are so potent in bringing about “win-win” results is that they start with recognition of the other person’s point of view, and lead to understanding of and empathy with their concerns. It is a corollary of the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would have them treat you,” found in nearly every major religion. It’s simply hard to argue with someone who is “close” to you; the more common tendency is to “understand them right back.”

6. Public Expressions of Appreciation can be Doubly Effective: Recognition of a person’s achievements, effort, attitude, loyalty or other attribute expressed in a public setting can be doubly effective in motivating them. This is the reason underlying the plethora of awards shows, lunches and dinners that take place in nearly every organization, industry and trade association. Even being nominated for such an award can be considered an award, in itself. (That being said, the use of “awards” or public recognition is not readily available to most people.)

7. Finally, Bear in Mind that Appreciation is Used by All Good Negotiators: One of the very best negotiators I ever knew was a friend and client of mine: Bob Woolf. Bob was the very first “sports agent” there ever was, who achieved great success and fame after humble beginnings as a personal injury lawyer with an office over Robinson’s Roast Beef in small-town Alton, Massachusetts. Bob told me many times he would start negotiating by “establishing negotiation partners.” That is, Bob would casually seek out what common interests and traits he had with his “adversary.” It might be the ages of their children, or the sports they played, or the hobbies they enjoyed, or the college they attended. Bob would use whatever he and his “adversary” had in common to discuss common concerns, in order to move from “adversaries” to “partners.”

By expressing understanding of and appreciation for the other person’s concerns and goals, Bob got the other person to express understanding of and appreciation for his own. He always found that making the deal – and the best deal at that – then came much easier. Keep this “negotiator’s secret” in mind and use it to your best advantage. And bear in mind, too, that your “adversary” may be using this same “secret” on you. Either way, no matter how the “win-win” is established, it is always a “win” for you.

In your own navigation and negotiation to success at work, try using the surprising power of simple appreciation. It is a powerful motivator, in good measure because of its being unexpected, unconventional, underutilized and under-appreciated, itself. And because it is so counter-intuitive, it is often unnerving and unsettling to “the other side.” Yet it is, at the same time, upbeat and uplifting. Consider its unabashed use, especially if under fire.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Avoiding unnecessary risks to your job, your finances and your reputation, is essential. But it takes more than luck to make that happen. It takes forethought, care and prudence, the essential ingredients in good negotiating.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “reward” and eliminate or reduce employment “risk.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

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