If you want to give recognition that is memorable, motivational and meaningful, there is one major skill and ability that you must learn.
Once you understand and are competent in this quality, you can teach others to develop this essential human ingredient.
Simply put, it is the ability to feel.
I have often shared a revised definition that I have for what recognition really is. Real Recognition™ is the transfer of positive feelings and emotion from one person to another.
You can boil it down this way. A person excels at some task, helps someone out, stays late after work to complete a job, or makes a major sale. What this means is that a positive action occurred whether big or small. Then someone observes or hears about this action and they have a positive emotional reaction or experience because of what the other person did.
That person, as the observer of work done well, can harness their feelings they have and express them in words and action towards the individual, or people, who did something amazing.
Jon Katzenbach describes this as pride, which he defined as the emotional high that follows performance and success. Even the simple recollection of past successes and an empathy for the pride we sense in others produces an anticipation of future successes that motivates our ongoing performance.
He describes this pride as a “closed loop of emotional energy.” Here we come back to the concept of feelings and emotions.
Leaders in exemplary and high-performing organizations have developed attributes to instill pride, this emotional energy, into other people even before any action is performed and results are widely known.
There is both an individual pride and organizational pride.
A great leader conveys pride in their employees when they achieve their personal goals that are aligned with the goals of the organization.
So, you have a pretty happy and excited achiever or person doing good things. Our job in giving recognition means reciprocating by expressing acknowledgment with similar excitement and enthusiasm as the person you are recognizing.
Other research suggests that our brain produces chemical made signals of happiness that are more salient in both facial and vocal expressions. Thus, these brain chemicals augment a sender’s expressiveness and yield a bidirectional enhancement of social communication. That’s a fancy way of saying that an emotional connection goes on between people when communicating positive feelings.
Expressing Feelings and Emotion
How do you express and show recognition to people that include these positive expressions of emotions and feelings?
Believe it or not, your voice is the most powerful conveyor of emotion when giving people Real Recognition™. Research shows that our sense of hearing for voice may be stronger than our sight in accurately detecting emotion.
Scientists at Yale University School of Management found that we are more accurate when we hear someone’s voice than when we look only at their facial expressions, or both see their face and hear their voice.
You can sense someone’s emotional state even better over the phone than when in person. People can easily detect enthusiasm and excitement when they hear someone speak with a high-pitched voice and in a rapid manner. We can detect basic emotional tone of voice such as positive vs. negative feelings, or excitement vs. calm.
Remarkably, a listener can even detect finer nuances of emotion. For example, you can distinguish anger from fear and sadness, awe from compassion and interest. You’ll find that people can identify “vocal bursts” that signify emotion—like the ahhh! with feeling fright or the ahhh expression of pleasure—and these are recognizable across all cultures.
Ways to Add Variety To Your Voice
When acknowledging people for the amazing work they are doing or for the positive help they have given people, try to use more variety in your voice. Notice the speed of your speech, for example. You can slow down or speed up your rate of speech. Express excitement with a slightly higher-pitched voice. There might be some particular words that you use more force with or give more volume to. You’ll change the inflection in your voice to show enthusiasm.
These are all the things you do in normal conversation, so become more aware of them in yourself and as you watch others converse.
And naturally, your face cannot help but supplement your voice with raised eyebrows and a smile on your face.
Work hard on observing the emotional reactions of people who have accomplished great things. Look out for the smiles on people’s faces when they have made a difference in another person’s life.
All that is left for you to do is share the feelings of pride you had in their actions. Learn to make your expressions of recognition an emotional exchange of what you felt. Then you will have given the most meaningful recognition of all.
Recognition Reflection: How well do you express feelings with the recognition you give to people?
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.