The Big A – The Remarkable Impact of Acknowledgement On Engagement And Performance

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Over the past couple of weeks, clients from very different industries – utilities, higher education, financial services – have remarked on the same thing: “I had no idea I don’t acknowledge what people are saying – it makes such a difference!”.
What do we mean by “Acknowledgement” and why does it matter?
Whether we are working with clients on a full-blown culture development programme, some more targeted work on building high-performance leadership or strengthening leading change capability, we always, at some stage, come to the art of having brilliant conversations.
Everyone knows the importance of listening, on a one-to-one basis and at an organisational level, and we do it with varying degrees of attention and authenticity. We all manage to keep eye contact, nod along, keep open body-language etc and I don’t intend to downplay the importance of this.
However, the communication tool that we use takes it one step further to “Acknowledgement” – the big A. This simply means re-capping the essence of what someone has said, using their words, so that they know you have understood. So what does it look like in practice?
Scenario 1 – basic listening
Steve:  So what do you really think about the changes being introduced?
Dave: Well I really don’t see why we need them, it feels very much like the changes we did 5 years ago and they didn’t work, it’s going to disrupt the team, they’re not going to like it, I’m worried we’re going to lose some of our best people and that’s going to put even more pressure on achieving our targets.
Steve: (Looking at Dave, nodding, open body-language) Mmm…OK….I see…mmm…
Outcome: Dave may now be unsure that his concerns have been registered and really doesn’t know if anything will be done as a result of him communicating
Scenario 2 – great acknowledgement
Steve:  So what do you really think about the changes being introduced?
Dave: Well I really don’t see why we need them – it feels very much like the changes we did 5 years ago and they didn’t work, it’s going to disrupt the team, they’re not going to like it, I’m worried we’re going to lose some of our best people and that’s going to put even more pressure on achieving our targets.
Steve: (Looking at Dave) So it feels like a repeat of the changes done 5 years ago, that you don’t feel worked, and you’re worried about the impact on the team and performance?
Dave: Yes
Outcome: Dave feels listened to, his opinion respected and taken seriously.  He will be feeling more confident that he and Steve are on the same page
There’s a subtle but powerful difference. Most of us think we do this all the time but someone holding-up the mirror shows that we don’t! Hearing your own words played back does a few extremely helpful things that strengthen engagement and support high-performance:
1. People don’t feel the need to repeat themselves. This saves time and stops conversations going round in circles – especially when emotions are high in times of change or debate
2. People feel different/’negative’ perspectives are OK to share. They are more likely to be open and honest in future conversations
3. Hearing their own words played back can prompt people to moderate their own reaction to change. “To be honest I don’t think the whole thing is a waste of time – I just think we could do this particular bit better”
4. Acknowledging each communication acts as a step towards understanding how to increase engagement and performance. “So you feel X? What would make the biggest difference to how you feel about this change?”
We have witnessed the impact of acknowledgement on engagement and performance in so many walks of life. Call centre teams acknowledging their customers on the phone, site managers acknowledging how their teams are experiencing change, leadership teams acknowledging the impact they are having on each other.
On many occasions people tell us how this simple habit has even improved the quality of conversations they have with their family – in the frantically busy world we live this is invaluable.

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