Why Are You Working So Hard on Recognition?

Each organization has at least one person in their midst who doesn’t get it with employee recognition.

Which is why when I was in a meeting this week with several representatives from an organization I am working with, someone boldly asked me a question related to a person who is likely a non-recognizer. This courageous individual asked, how do you respond to people who ask, “Why are you working so hard on recognition?”

They are asking how do you address naysayers in an organization. They want to know how they should stand up to these types of people and substantiate the merit of the time and effort they are putting into the cause of improving employee recognition.

How do should you respond to someone like this who is negative, opinionated, and sometimes even derails your efforts to make recognition happen in your organization?

Know Your Enemy

“Know your enemy,” is a saying derived from the classic writings of Sun Tzu in the book The Art of War.

Sun Tzu’s military intent in this simple phrase is, if you know yourself but you do not know the enemy, you will lose (at least) as often as you will win. And you will win (at most) 50 battles out of 100. However, if you know both yourself and the enemy, you will win many more battles, perhaps all 100 out of 100, so don’t be afraid to fight them.

The equation here is:

1.    If you understand yourself and your enemy, you are far more likely to win your battle.

2.    If you understand yourself, but you do not understand your enemy, you have roughly a 50/50 chance of winning your battle

3.    But if you don’t understand yourself or your enemy, you will probably lose every battle.

This is a philosophical answer suggesting conducting a stakeholder analysis with those who should support recognition practices and programs. Know their strengths and weaknesses and how they think.

If you are dealing with just one person, take the next recommendations seriously.

Better to Understand Your Naysayer First

Stephen R. Covey’s business book, The 7 Habits of Effective People, has the fifth habit recommending, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”.

One great way to respond to a challenging question of what you are doing, is to ask a question back. After they ask you, “Why are you working so hard on recognition?”, you might ask them something like:

·      “Do you have a concern about what I am working on?”

·      “Oh, what is it about my work on recognition that interests you?”

·      “Is there a concern you have that I can answer for you?”

Your goal is to clarify why they are asking such a question in the first place rather than feel obligated to try and defend what you do.

Covey’s fifth habit encourages us to listen intending to understand the other person. There is no reason that says you have to reply. Your goal is to understand their underlying needs, find out what their concerns are, and gather the full context behind their question first before you give an answer.

Then when you get a better picture of the underlying need and reason you are more likely able to answer this root issue with greater confidence.

Keep an open mind to how they finally answer. Try to understand their viewpoint. Do their comments have any validity that you should consider? Are there valid reasons or is it just an emotional reaction? 

If there is little or no constructive reasoning behind their questions and comments, then you know they are just speaking from their fears. You may to say that it’s probably best to agree to disagree and leave them be.

They are likely afraid to get out of their personal comfort zone and recognize people they work with. They might look at you as the enemy and you are a reminder of what they can’t do well and so they want to make you a scapegoat.

Try to understand why they think the way they do by looking at their past and their personal and professional background. Are they speaking from authoritative research and experience or from their emotions and lack of understanding?

Seek first to understand and you will be in a much stronger position. 

Be Bold and Say It Like It Is

You already know why you are working so hard on your organization’s recognition practices and programs. It just stunned you that someone should question your motives and your job role, and it took you off guard.

Besides asking clarifying questions to understand the questioner better, present your views based on what your leader assigned you to do, state your own vision and beliefs around the importance of recognition boldly, and tell them why you are involved and passionate about employee recognition.

Never think for one minute that you have to change the opinion of this naysayer.

It is a shame that such a leader or manager thinks this way. The organization should have a performance management review process in place, and senior leaders, that identify whether people managers or leaders are good at recognizing people or not. That is the organization’s job, not yours.

Remember, you don’t have to defend what you believe. State what you believe and move on. You’ll likely leave them standing in their tracks or at least asking better questions of you.

The Reality Behind Naysayers

Always smile when you share what you believe and don’t be offended by what these naysayers say. To take offence at what other people say is a choice and not a natural reaction. Choose not to be offended.

Ironically, you believe in recognition, so you have the power and control that the naysayer does not. You can pity their limited view on life and the potential for growth and development of the people they serve.

Continue to work hard on recognition practices and programs. Keep beating the drum of the value of recognition wherever you go.

You only need your own approval and no one else. 

Most of the times, naysayers have little to add to the conversation about employee recognition. They are only endeavoring to extinguish your hopes and dreams and those working with you.

And on a cautionary note, be careful always engaging in conversation with known naysayers. Sometimes you have to avoid naysayers. However, never let them intimidate you or cause you to feel trapped by their negative questions.

You can even turn a negative person around by being kind towards them and greeting them positively with a smile. Look for the good in them by identifying a quality you admire in them. By learning to understand them you can reshape the perceptions you have of them.

Try to change the dynamic of the relationship you have with this person. Share personal stories with them of the impact recognition has had on people in the organization. Keep it short and sweet.

Cite relevant research and industry findings on employee recognition practices and programs with them to keep them informed rather than to prove your case. You can even ask them for their help on a small favor that could change the relationship completely around.

Summary for Dealing with Naysayers

To summarize, keep the following points in mind whenever you naysayers ask something like, “why are you working so hard on recognition?”

  1. Know Your Enemy. Learn as much as you can about them so the profile you create helps you better understand what they are thinking and where they are coming from. You’re looking at their personal and professional life to see if that helps you appreciate them better.
  2. Better to Understand Your Naysayer First. Understand everything you can about their question by digging deeper into their reasoning by asking clarifying questions in response. You don’t have to defend yourself by immediately trying to answer the challenging question. You may have to be open to some ideas and comment that you had overlooked. Be open-minded.
  3. Be Bold and Say It Like It Is. Stand up for your beliefs and state why your leader asked you to work on recognition. Passionately share why you love recognition so much and that is why you work so hard at your job.
  4. The Reality Behind Naysayers. You will not change too many of them so don’t even try. You can provide some facts, research, and evidence, but it is the underlying reason behind their question that you really need to get at.

Recognition Reflection: What are the underlying reasons you have seen or heard behind the negative naysayers of employee recognition?

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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