Questions about The Power of Acknowledgment from Adult Learners at the University of Maryland University College

Last year The Power of Acknowledgment was adopted by the University of Maryland University College Graduate School of Management and Technology for its class entitled Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Skills for Managers. It is quite thrilling to have the book be “required reading” each semester as part of the project management curriculum. As my way of saying thank you for this honor, I started delivering a live, interactive webinar for the students in the classes once each semester. At the most recent virtual seminar I led in July, the professors asked the students to send in their questions to me, and they were excellent. I answered some during the virtual session, but others I will be answering them from time to time here on my blog. Feel free to comment on these questions and answers.

The first is from Nicole Regobert, Applications Support Specialist, Bechtel Corporation and I think it is a very important one. Nicole wrote the following:

 How does one sincerely acknowledge a boss or higher up for their accomplishments without looking like they’re trying to ‘suck up’? There are many times I have to refrain from telling my higher ups that he or she did a good job on something because I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to get into their favor, although I do in fact sincerely think so. 

Nicole, you bring up an issue that is a real concern of mine, so thank you for raising it. I do believe that bosses and higher ups are among the most under-acknowledged people in the workplace, and I think this is something that needs to change. You may remember from the webinar and from the book that there are two conditions for having an acknowledgment be accepted with appreciation and gratitude by your recipient: it must be both heartfelt and authentic. If you want to let your boss know what a great job he or she is doing, then say it from your heart and be completely truthful. Then she will “get it” and accept it with pleasure.

I had this happen with my boss, the CEO of our company, quite a few years ago, when we were together at a Project Management Institute Global Congress. At that conference, our company was honored at a meeting of international project managers, and our people from all different parts of the world were asked to stand up. I had been with IIL since the early days, when it was just a few people in a New York office, and so I felt a real surge of pride when all of our people from different countries stood up to be honored. I wanted to write my boss a quick note at that moment, as we were sitting together and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to talk while the session leader was talking. So, after hesitating for a few seconds, wondering if I really should do it, I scribbled her a note on a pad saying how proud I was to be with IIL and to see the great distance we had come since I had joined the company. I pushed it over to her, she read it, smiled and nodded a bit. That was the end of that as far as I was concerned, until about 8 years later when I was writing my book.

When we were discussing the different stories of acknowledgment I was using for the book, she said, “Remember that note you wrote me at the PMI Global Congress years ago?” “No,” I said, a bit embarrassed. “You know,” she continued. “The one where you wrote that you were so proud of IIL for coming such a great distance!” She seemed a little surprised that I could have forgotten it. “Oh, yeah!” I said at last. “Well,” she continued, “I still have that note. I put it away very carefully and I take it out every so often to remind myself how far we have come.”  

I was shocked at how much it had meant to her, and realized how close I had come to not delivering my message to her out of fear of being seen as a “suck up.” But I found the courage to write what was in my heart, and it had so much more of an effect on her than I could ever have imagined.

So Nicole, just be authentic, let your acknowledgment come from your heart, and tell your boss how great you think she is when you really feel that way.  Know that it will make a difference – sometimes a profound one.  I look forward to having you help lead the way in changing the unfortunate scarcity of acknowledgments of our bosses and other higher ups, when they are truly warranted. Thanks for writing and for being in the class!