I recently participated in a Habitat for Humanity trip chaperoning 13 high school kids to Wilmington, Delaware. Quite apart from the service work we did, I was also very intrigued by some of the conversations and comments that came from these teenagers. One particular kid continuously remarked on how important it was to acknowledge other drivers and show courtesy on the road. I asked her about it and she remarked how easy it is to do yet how hugely impactful it can be for the recipient; pretty impressive from a teenager.
This led me to think about the power and impact of the “skill” of acknowledgment. It’s not a personality trait but truly a skill that can be learned and perfected with relative ease. More importantly is the fact that there are always numerous opportunities to utilize it and therefore positively impact the many interactions we have every day.
Acknowledgement can be presented in different formats. The example cited above is more visual; a wave of a hand or a nod of the head and quite often it can be to a total stranger. Even more impactful however is the use of acknowledgment in everyday conversations. Its strength lies in that fact that it helps to create trust by demonstrating that you are really listening to what is being said. One way of doing this is to paraphrase back what you heard. When you say “What you are saying is….” or “In other words……” it creates clarity about content or feelings and even allows corrections, if appropriate. More importantly, what is being said is being heard!
From a coaching perspective, acknowledgment is a hugely powerful skill that is often underestimated even though it lies at the heart of the most effective coach / client interactions. In some respects, it can be seen as the intersection of empowered questioning and insightful listening. So even if you are strongly related to these key coaching skills, to be even more impactful, acknowledge what is being said and then go one step further and validate. For example, “What you are saying is that you didn’t perform at your best (acknowledgement), which is understandable given that you were feeling ill that week (validation). Client’s responses to this is that “you really get me”.
In conclusion, acknowledgement helps to enhance the relationship, whether personal or professional, by creating an authentic connection that is built on the pillars of humility and empathy. In other words, you make it all about the client (or the other person), which is what good coaches and leaders always do.