What is appreciation?

Sometimes in life it’s hard to know how to accept things offered to us.

The adage goes “it’s the thought that counts” with the added assumption – so you better appreciate the effort.

But what about those times you don’t appreciate something? When something has been offered and you’re just cynical about it. I mean, just what do we do with appreciation?

“I appreciate you” or “I appreciate what you tried to do” or “I appreciate the situation you’re facing”.

Such a loaded and confusing turn of phrase. It can swing from being a genuine “that was kind” to “I need to appease you quickly and efficiently”.

Appreciating people is hard. It means you have to take a moment and consider just what it is you’re trying to do.

Connecting with another person, that’s what you’re doing. When you appreciate something, you’re letting them know you have empathy with them and you are sharing in something they have offered.

It means letting go of your ego for a moment to accept the other person. To accept that they tried something for you and regardless of the outcome their action meant something.

Because all we can do is judge people on our actions.

When the call centre person says “I’m sorry and I appreciate what you’re going through” it’s hard to know if that’s genuine, or if it’s the patter they’ve been trained to say.

But when we recognise someone for doing something, and we let them know – that’s beautiful right there.

I have a call to action for you.

Get in touch with someone. Let them know you appreciate them. You don’t have to use the words “I appreciate you for…” as that can seem quite contrived. But you can let someone know why they’re appreciated.

Truly it’s a gift. We often reserve if for our close loved ones. Imagine how much stronger and more connected we could be if we accepted and appreciated what someone else did.

Beyond that though, we start to realise we can appreciate all sorts of things. We can appreciate difference – be that difference of skin colour, difference of opinion, difference of religion, difference of work practise, difference of hair style, and all sorts of difference.

When we can appreciate that which is beyond our modus operandi, that’s when we become the best we can be. We don’t have to like what’s happening, but an action being appreciated means we start to bridge gaps to resolution.

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Just what will you learn about in Positive Psychology?

The last time I held a workshop on positive psychology, I wanted to make available all the content before the day. I did this to show how easy it is to share knowledge, and still have a highly useful learning environment.

So I’m simply curating them in this post so that they’re all in one place if you’d like to learn more in your own time:

We’ll be learning about what it means to be a Positive Deviant. That is, some one or group of people who come together and make change happen for the better, with no more resources available than others in similar situations.

Have you ever considered that you might have a Signature Strength? Well, the truth is we all do. What is it? It’s something which becomes your defining feature and drives all activity you do.

We will most certainly be discussing the difference between positive thinking and positive psychology. One is a mindset and how it can help provide another point of view, and the other is about the science of purposeful behaviours that help you live a more fulfilled life.

It’s hard to find ways to be your best self. People who understand often indulge in an activity where they can be their best self without care of judgement or criticism. It’s called your Third Place.

We’ll be talking about some very related topics of Unconditional Positive Regard, Optimism and Hope.

One of the most important things about positive psychology is to not disregard when Bad Things Happen. It’s vitally important to allow ourselves to experience these moments and find ways to come out of them building our resilience.

Perhaps one of the areas less well known about within positive psychology is how we can view the institutions around us – or the associations around us – so that we understand their usefulness and value.

And lastly, what better way to help you know the agenda for the day than sharing the slide deck with you?

Appetite whet? Book your ticket for the London session on 18th March. For information about Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, check this post out.

Do good things, not easy things.

I met with Ian Perry yesterday and we had a good chat over a cup of tea. In talking, something came to mind about things I do with my kids.

I’m a lazy kind of guy, so find it easy to opt for doing easy things. Easy for me means popping the telly box on for them and watching TV aimlessly. It means passing them the DS and just letting half an hour pass. It means making a chip butty for lunch instead of a tuna sandwich with carrot sticks.

I learned quickly that although not bad things, they certainly weren’t good things.

So I changed. Telly box and gaming stuff gets limited time. Crafts, lego building, drawings, Nerf gun battles, chess playing, draughts playing all get more time. Lunch is better, though I often check in with the higher power (their mother) about what is better for them.

So the good things become and feel better and more healthy.

I made a short hop skip and a jump in my mind to organisations.

It’s easy to do easy things like increase pay, or exit people when we think we need a monetary incentive to make them work harder or we’re not happy with them.

It’s easy to criticise and point the finger.

It’s easy to save that hard discussion about performance for another day.

Easy means we cheat people of being better.

Doing good means seeking ways to make things better.

It means simple things like saying thank you for a job well done.

It means giving helpful feedback if someone hasn’t done something as you’d expected.

It means treating the team to goodies just because they deserve it.

I like being good. It helps me to feel good.

Do good things, not easy things.

UPDATE: 17:20

Earlier this morning, Doug passed a helpful challenge to me.

He’s of course right. We have to be mindful of good in the context of what we’re trying to achieve.

Equally, if we can get a ‘quick win’ which is genuine and truly helpful, then why wouldn’t we?

What is humility?

There are two people I know of who embody what it means to be humble. One is Guru Nanak Dev ji, the first guru in Sikhi. The other is the Dalai Lama.

It’s tough to be humble, because it means we have to actively battle our ego. And in the Western world, we are taught that ego is important. We’re taught that to be successful, you have to massage your ego. You have to massage other people’s ego. You have to assuage yourself to other people’s ego. Ego is what makes the world go round.

We’re taught that if you’re humble, you don’t value yourself. Humility is for the weak, and for the naive. Ego keeps you strong and competitive. Ego will earn you that promotion. Ego will get you that bonus. Ego will win the heart of fair maiden.

So when we read about / learn about / experience humility, it can often be an alien thing. It’s often met with a healthy dose of scepticism. It seems being met by people who can and are humble throws us off. What’s your ulterior motive?

There’s plenty of reasons why we find it difficult to accept that someone chooses not to acknowledge what they’ve achieved. It goes against conventional wisdom and all self help books. No one really talks about being humble.

It’s all about “Be your best self”, and “help others”, and “seek first to understand”, and “believe in yourself”. Which is great, and empathetic, and selfless. But is it humble?

We’re living in an age where humility has little to do with daily life. If I don’t take credit for the work I’ve done, then what’s the point in living?

I probably believe in humility to a fault. I always have done. I also believe in shouting about my own success. It’s a paradox living my life. What I know is that when I share responsibility for an achievement, it’s not because I don’t believe in myself, it’s because I don’t want anyone feeling excluded. When I consider scrutinising a compliment or dismissing it, it’s because I would rather talk about how to enable that in others. I make things happen because of a series of fortunate events that I help to facilitate and negotiate.

Don’t forget, I’m paradoxical about this too. I do make things happen, and I don’t apologise for that. I’m happy and proud about things I achieve. Being humble about what I do, for me, is acknowledging that this is the way of life. I work to do things, but this does not equate needing to shout to the everyone and anyone who will listen about them.

Is this also, I wonder, about the British ‘stiff upper lip’ at play? No, because the connotations of that infer that displaying emotion in public is undesirable which I don’t believe at all.

There is something about humility which shows our true nature, and that can be scary for others. It shows us being vulnerable. It shows us being with heart. It shows us embracing choice. It shows us diversity. It shows potential. It shows courage.

Optimism

I’ve always been the optimistic type, much to the chagrin of many people I know. It’s because I’m almost naively optimistic about life and how things will turn out, or how things are in life. I don’t intend on ever changing that though – it’s me and is a core part of my purpose in life. I believe in the best outcomes and the best of people. Being optimistic, for me, helps me to find a reason for carrying on in life. I’m optimistic for the future because experience informs me that the future can be a better place.

Optimism is linked intrinsically with hope. If I hope for a better tomorrow, I must therefore be optimistic about tomorrow too. It’s important for the human condition because it helps provide a way for people to suspend their belief for a brief moment. We might also link being confident with being optimistic. What are confident people good at doing if not installing a sense of optimism about that which they have confidence in?

It’s easy to become blindly optimistic though. That is, to believe something about the future which is not based on anything. Optimism comes from a sense of believing something can be better because experience tells us as much. Take the programme Dragon’s Den as an example. Budding punters take their inventions to potential investors and try to entice them to part with cash in return for a stake in the company. There have been many an occasion when the Dragons have liked the product, but they do not share the optimism of the inventor. More often than not this is because the figures provided do not instil the confidence to achieve a much sought after return on their investment. Or, the Dragon’s don’t share the optimism of the inventor because the evidence doesn’t support their belief.

This is a good example of where being realistic about the future is prudent. It means we don’t all clamour after the next big thing because in the main, we need to be convinced it has worth. The difference is, some people get convinced sooner than others. In another example, take the concept of the adoption curve. Those at the early part of the curve have really quite little to base their assertions on, other than the potential held by the product they’re about to invest in. The late majority will only be optimistic about the benefits of investing in the product once they have the evidence to support the optimism of the early adopters.

When it comes to human behaviour, though, it’s difficult to have an evidence base on which we can base our optimism. We have to base it on something more fundamental – how much do I trust you? If I trust you, I have faith in you, and I can be optimistic about what you can help me with. When we are optimistic about our fellow people, we have a belief they will be able to achieve something because experience tells us this is the case.

Even if we love someone, this does not equate being optimistic about them or their or your own future with them. Optimism comes from what we know. I can hope for something better, but I may not choose to be optimistic about it because experience tells me this will not be borne out. So optimism in others is dependent on the positive experience I have with them.

I often wonder how do we engender optimism in the workplace. Like so many concepts, such as creativity or the fear of not knowing or vulnerability or resilience, we aren’t comfortable with this notion of optimism. It’s all about the numbers in most cases, or it’s about he process or the system we can put into place. I don’t need to care about being optimistic because it doesn’t amount to anything tangible which makes me money. Ugh.

Live in hope.

Be optimistic about others.

Trust in the human condition.

Believe in better. (sorry BSkyB for stealing your tagline, although, now, finally, I understand it.)

Being HR brilliant

A while back I wrote about your signature strength. When you understand about yourself that there is something core to your being which drives you and everything you do. It’s not something we give much heed to, because it’s quite the self-indulgent thing to experience. So many day to day things happening, why do I then need to take the time to find my signature strength?

I’d like us to consider this is in the work environment. Last week Laurie Ruettimann wrote about all the contradictory career advice you hear these days. And I wanted to pick up on that. Positive Psychology easily falls into the camp of – yeah, you can only do that when you have nothing else in life to worry about.

If positive psychology is about helping people to live a vibrant life, how can we enable this more at work? The simple answer is, it isn’t likely to happen.

We’re not at work to be our best self. We’re not at work to find our signature strength. We’re certainly not at work to live a vibrant life.

Sure there are some workplaces that are great to work for. Mostly that’s because the company started because of a particular skill, they hired others with those skills, they hired even more who had skills they’d need in the future, and they made money along the way. But what about the production line worker, or the telesales clerk, or the road cleaner? They’re doing the job they have to in order to just get by. Asking them to live a more vibrant life may well result in verbal abuse.

And that’s the challenge. Us lot in HR. We few in OD. We can help support that creation of meaning. There’s been plenty of talk lately in the HR blogosphere about making work better. There are some practitioners out there who are making it happen. We don’t need to hack our way through things to make them better. I think the terminology is interesting and the CIPD have done a grand job of creating a sense of vivre in the day to day thinking of HR pros (who are all active online).

At work these things matter. A person’s pay, the physical layout, being safe from harm, having dignity, and having opportunities to contribute to something more than your work. If we get that right, and we’re the ones who control much of that, people can find their own ways to live vibrant lives.