Recognition Is Always About the Recipient and Never About You

Real Recognition™ is all about transferring positive feelings and emotions that you felt about someone’s actions and conveying those feelings to the other person. That way they can feel similarly as you did about their meaningful behaviors. 

When expressing recognition to a person, this is not about your aggrandizement. Recognition is not an ego trip for highlighting you as the giver of the praise. Giving sincere and authentic recognition must always focus on the recipient, the person you want to acknowledge. 

How can you make sure the recognition you give a person is about them and not about you?

The easiest way to ensure your recognition is more about the recipient rather than yourself is to think less about yourself and more about other people. Follow these suggestions to move you more in that direction. 

Develop a Gratitude Mindset

Actively practice gratitude daily. 

It may not be that easy at first. The key is doing some kind of activity that focuses you on gratitude thinking. For example, the classic recommendation is keeping a gratitude journal. I have done this for several weeks at a time and it is amazing what you stop to think about. Self-reflection is a powerful exercise in finding good around you.

My youngest son has written for several years, and continues to write, a daily Facebook post under the hashtag #givethanks. He writes about the ordinary things I know I take for granted. By having a regular practice of expressing gratitude, you will think less about yourself and more about others. This is essential for giving recognition and focusing on the recipient.

You might have to stop in your day to express gratitude. You might share what you are thankful for at the dinner table as a family, or with others, and each taking turns to do the same. Or taking time out at a break or during lunchtime to stop, reflect, and silently, or verbally out loud, say something you’re grateful for. You can even make time to think of your colleagues and leaders and what you are grateful for because of them.

Become a People Watcher.

Become a keen observer of people around you.

Observe everything about the people you work with and those who live around you. Instead of judging or questioning why people do the things they do, learn to appreciate and respect people’s differences. We all have quirks and interesting qualities. There are reasons we act the way we do. Sit down and converse with people or videoconference with them to get to know them better. The more you can socially interact with people, you’ll develop greater appreciation for them.

To think about recognition in the eyes of the receiver of recognition, you need to see more about them and their lives. Make mental note of what you see and even take written notes, too. Discover what gets people excited about life. What is it that motivates them?

It is easy to pass up on these things because we don’t stop to observe or ask people questions. 

Know Your Employees 

Learn your employee’s recognition preferences.

Sit down with them for 10 to 15-minutes and discover what makes recognition meaningful and memorable to them. Find out how they feel about being recognized in a public setting. Or, if they like to be recognized in person, are there still a few people they would like to share the recognition with? What are their favorite foods and beverages? What are their hobbies and interests? Could you use this information to give more effective recognition?

Get to know the people you work with on a personal level crossing no inappropriate boundaries. Discover things about their life that make them interesting people to work with. Find out as many things as you can that are meaningful to them. Are they sports enthusiasts? Do they like to read? Ask them questions about their family and friends. What do they do in their spare time? How can you appreciate them more based on what you have now found out? 

Show Caring Concern

Be open-minded to helping people.

You’ll think a lot less about yourself when you show more caring concern for everyone you work with. Be aware of positive life events that are coming up. Celebrate with them in person. Send a token of congratulations that matches the life circumstance and needs. Have a supply of themed greeting cards on hand for births, adoptions, marriages, anniversaries… even new pets. Getting a card in the mail at home is a rare thing these days, so take advantage of this.

Learn how to deal with various crises, illnesses, and life situations. Listen with empathy as staff share their personal concerns and problems, whether sickness, death, divorce, or lost opportunities. My wife and I have gone online to purchase cards focused on dealing with cancer—for the person who is sick and their family members. It shows you’ve taken some extra care and time to find them. Each person who has received them has spoken of how much it meant to them. 

Practice giving positive service to others, even to people you don’t know well. This will help you become better prepared for situations at work. Ask or pick up on the wellbeing and health of your employees’ significant others. Reach out to staff on following up with medical appointments if the individual gives you their permission. Visit them at the hospital or home as the need arises.

Transform Towards Selflessness

Thinking more about the people you want to recognize than yourself requires becoming more selfless.

One way to do this is to practice random acts of kindness at work and in your home community. This is all about learning how to give of your time and of yourself. When you can, volunteer where you live to give back to others. Keep your ears and eyes open for helping a neighbor, sending a card of well-wishes to someone in need, or dropping off a meal or goodies to someone overwhelmed or sick. Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to better appreciate exactly what they’re going through.

Realize, too, that if you give recognition to an employee, but you’re focusing more on yourself, you haven’t really recognized them at all. They will know this because it is so apparent. Your attempts at recognition will fall flat and be inauthentic and meaningless. 


Always be thinking of others in order to make the recognition you give focused on the recipient.

1. Practice daily developing actions of gratitude in your life.

2. Observe your staff by actively listening and making time to converse with them.

3. Get to know your employees on a personal level to discover the depth they bring to work.

4. Learn to care more about the individuals you work with than the work they actually do.

5. Form the habit of giving selfless service to others and think less about yourself.

Recognition Reflection: How do you help leaders and staff to think more about the recognition recipients than themselves?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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