Small stuff matters

“Unconditional kindness is the glue that sticks your team together.” If you react with cynicism towards this statement, you might be in the middle of a toxic environment.

Do you know the good feeling when someone does something nice to you that you didn’t expect? The free coffee sponsored by a colleague or that heartwarming compliment given by the cashier!?

As human beings we are wired to feel loved and valued when we receive unconditional and unexpected help. We are more open to bond with someone that has seen a need or wish of us and responded unasked. And that human glue strengthens our teams at work and intensifies the joy of working together.

Knowing this principle we are capable of forming our own comforting environment by investing into our fellow human beings. Their emotional-well-being will increase. And with them feeling better the overall atmosphere will turn positive.

Let me give you some examples of what you can do:

Offer a hand or a ride

Recently, I met some clients in a remote area in the suburbs of my hometown. By the end of the meeting some participants needed to go to the headquarter that is 20 min away by bus. Since I had my car with me I offered them a ride – although I just had met them for the first time. We had a really good talk, I got to know whom they meet next and it was a valuable exchange for both sides.

Sponsor that coffee

I love coffee. And having a deep conversation with a tasty cup of coffee makes my day. I assume that others around me are quite similar. Therefore I never hesitate to invite people for coffee. Usually that behavior is mirrored back at me quite often – so I also get invited for a coffee a lot. Just last week one of my team members smiled at me and said: today’s coffee is on me. What happened with me? A huge smiling “free coffees are the best”. That relationship grew that day. It was a great investment into the team glue.

Thank everyone

Make it a habit to thank people – even for little things like holding the door for you or taking your cup to the cleaning counter. Even if that means a short interruption in the conversation. Your spoken “thank you” signals the other person that you noticed and that you care for what they just did. It is a very small thing – but each time you add some glue to your relationship. Same is true for emails – you are probably never too busy to respond with a short “thx”.

Appreciate people

Especially when you are a team lead make sure to appreciate your people on a regular basis. Despite the cleverness of your team mates, it never gets old to hear a “well done”, “I appreciate your time invest” or “thanks for giving your creativity to the company”. For sure you must ensure to be precise in your appreciation and specify what you mean. Just handing out “appreciated” as a standard answer won’t do the trick.

Personally, I like to write an email or handwritten note to my team members in order to appreciate their investment into the company and our team. It takes some time to think of specific situations and the strengths of each one displayed but the result that I am seeing in my team is worth the invest.

Is there a downside?

Yes. Sadly there is. Since these actions work more or less independent from the intention behind it, a lot of managers have used them as “leadership tools” to grow their own career instead of relationships around them. For a while that works well. Until people realize that they are being manipulated. And then they close down emotionally. Instead of feeling joy when getting a compliment, they react with disbelief and cynicism.

In turn, when these people become leaders themselves they are not capable to do “the small stuff” because they believe that everything in this area is manipulation. Consequently a culture evolves in which people don’t lend a hand, you won’t hear a “Thank you” or get true appreciation.

So, what do you believe: Does small stuff matter?

Make appreciation stick

Giving a handwritten note to a colleague emphasis the content and creates a memory.

Recently I received a card saying “thanks for being my friend, it’s good to know you and have you in my life”. It feels good. What an honor if people value your friendship and enjoy spending time with you.

The other way around is also true: I love writing paper based notes to family, friends and also colleagues – letting them know what I appreciate about them, what makes them special and why I like spending time with them.

If you wince when reading “colleagues” I will share a few thoughts on why writing small notes of appreciation could actually be a good idea.

The format emphasizes the content

In our digital age we are not used to paper based communication anymore. Therefore, a real note of appreciation stands out – whether it is a sticky note on the screen or a well-chosen postcard. It can be touched and even smelled. The paper has a certain sound. All those elements create a more intense sensation and add to the value of the written content.

The writer learns to choose words precisely

A piece of paper limits the words, condensing the content to the mere core. Knowing that those words will last, they must be chosen well. It gives the writer the chance to think about the person who will receive the note and wrap the thoughts in words.

A physical note can be kept and re-read

The human brain tends to forget. Quickly. Even positive feedbacks only last a few days and are soon overwritten by stress, failure and bad self talk. But a written appreciation can be re-read, reminding the receiver of his/her strengths, positive impact and successes.

I will never forget the postcard I got from the client on my first project – a reorganization of a department with all the stress change brings along. Two ladies of the department wrote “it’s the people you meet you remember”. Despite an unpleasant project it was possible to connect on a human basis and touch people’s hearts. Over 10 years later I still have that card and like to think back.

Who gets your next card?

How to … appreciate people

Appreciation needs to be precise, immediate and honest in order to motivate and touch a person’s heart.

When I lived in the US the term “Appreciated” was used around me daily. Whenever I did something helpful, I got an “I appreciate your help” or when I hold a door for someone, a mumbled “appreciated” found its way to my ear. It only took a few days and I was so used to the term – even used it myself – that it quickly turned into an empty phrase. 

It reminds me of a chat I had the other day with a colleague, who actually got a positive comment from his project-lead but it seemed so hollow that it wasn’t perceived as honest appreciation.

So, if positive words themselves are not enough to be perceived as real appreciation what is needed? When does a person feel appreciated? 

The questions in combination highlight: there is a sender and a receiver of appreciation. Both people might perceive “appreciation” quite differently. Gary Chapman describes 5 types of how people express and receive appreciation differently [that is: receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and words of affirmation]. Feel free to dig deeper into these 5 types and discover how you actually receive appreciation.

In this article I will only focus on words of affirmation as a way to express and receive appreciation.

When is a positive feedback perceived as true appreciation? 

Preciseness

When you want to appreciate your team member, tell them precisely what you liked and what you want to honor. I recall team meetings after which I got a “well done” and nothing more. “Well done” is so easily said that the receiver cannot even be sure whether you mean it or not. Rather tell someone “I like how you prepared and designed the agenda”, “Thank you for investing your time to prepare for the meeting” or “I was impressed how you handled the critical client question. Well done.” The thought of a precise sentence requires much more thought of yourself and it ensures that you do not slip in a half-heartedly “appreciated”. 

Immediateness

Whenever you see a noteworthy performance, give positive feedback instantly. First of all this will ensure that you can be precise, but you also eliminate the danger of forgetting. Personally, I have decided to appreciate and encourage colleagues always, when I see something cool. Be it a good call moderation, a thought-through newsletter, a well-designed slide or just a beautiful outfit. And the result is always the same: a happy smile. Even more, if you are working with the appreciated people on a regular basis, you build a track record of trust which you will need when you have to give critical feedback at some point. Therefore: appreciate whenever possible and invest in the relationship with your team member. 

Honesty 

This might be the most crucial one. It leads to the underlying motivation of your positive words: Why do you express words of affirmation? Sadly I have met a lot of people who have learned appreciation as a “leadership tool” or even worse as a manipulation-technique. But I am convinced that this attitude backfires because you will “try” to appreciate people and won’t get any result. If you want your team member to feel appreciated, you have to be honest in your motives towards that person. To create this “feeling” of appreciation, your words must be surrounded with an acceptance of your team member or the one you are appreciating. 

I want to encourage you: Start today with uplifting, precise, immediate and honest appreciation! Invest thereby in your relationships and build up the colleagues, team members and even friends around you. I know, it needs a lot of training and thought to nail these precious appreciation moments. But the result is worth the effort. 

What do you think? What else is needed for a positive feedback to be felt as true appreciation? I am eager to get your response.