Please Show Me, Don’t Tell Me, How To Recognize

Sometimes senior leaders think all they have to do is tell their leaders to go out there and say, “thank you,” more often, and that’s all you have to do to improve recognition. 

The key to learning to give real recognition the right way wherever you work is to not rely on telling people to give more recognition. 

Like writing fiction stories, show, don’t tell, is probably the best advice for increasing recognition moments by managers. 

How can you educate everyone to do more showing of recognition giving versus telling them?

Showing Recognition Is a Powerful Tool 

Seek out the exemplary recognizers already working around you. 

Find the ambassadors or champions of recognition in your organization. You know them. They are the people who seem to be born naturals at giving recognition. They are excellent recognizers, and they’ve probably acknowledged you along the way. And they aren’t always in leadership positions, although they are leaders in their own right.

They are warm and outgoing, but even introverts can still smile and engage you when positive behaviors and actions happen. You admire exemplary recognizers for their ability to be so grateful and appreciative. It’s an honor to be recognized by them. 

And that’s another point. They notice things. They’re active observers of people. You’ll see that they always find the good in others. 

They start meetings with sincere recognition for what a team member did that day or the previous week that made a difference to someone. It’s stopping an employee in the hall and expressing appreciation for their helping another colleague. They share the rest of the story of how a colleague the employee helped was impacted by the person’s actions.

Make sure you interview these exemplary ambassadors of recognition. Find out how they start and end their days with recognition. Learn what makes them tick in their thinking and actions to make them great recognizers.

Then follow their example in what they have shared. 

What Showing Recognition Looks Like

When you show effective recognition to employees, you give concrete and specific details about what the person did that merited recognition in such vivid detail that the receiver of recognition almost relives the experience of what they did. 

You never have to question what you’re being recognized for because you know—in detail. 

People who show recognition well allow the recipient of their praise to relive the experience as if witnessing it in their mind’s eye. It’s like replaying a vividly colored action movie. Not only do recipients see the event, but they feel it, too. This is because people who show recognition use words that evoke such positive emotions in the recipient. 

Showing recognition well is a whole-body and mind experience. There is nonverbal body language accompanied by facial expressions such as smiling, and positive tone of voice that reveals excitement. 

A person who shows recognition is thinking thoughts of gratitude and appreciation even before they express their recognition.

Consider the following questions to better understand showing recognition versus telling recognition in those you admire for the recognition they give others. 

  • What are the small habits that exemplary recognizers do consistently that make them great at giving recognition?
  • How do they think better and differently about valuing people and their contributions than others you know?
  • Do you see what happens before any recognition moment occurs that you can replicate in your own work performance?
  • How has recognition giving become more a way of life for them than following a direction from above? 

When recognizing others using the show, don’t tell mindset, the key skill you must develop is using sensory details in describing a person’s positive actions you are recognizing.

Let the words and actions you use to recognize others well, allow the recipient to feel passionate and happy about the exceptional work they do all over again. 

Show them, don’t tell them. 

Recognition Reflection: How do the exemplary recognizers you know in your organization best “show” recognition versus “tell” recognition?

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