Viewing Posts by Ruth Pearce
In my last post, I advocated looking for things to appreciate in yourself, to practice recognizing and acknowledging those traits that you share with others but express in ways that are uniquely you. In this post, I will dig deeper into the strength of appreciation and then suggest ways to use appreciation to the benefit of your team. Building a culture of appreciation builds rapport, a sense of inclusion and well-being for you and for those around you and you don’t need to be in charge to help make it happen.
Research shows that appreciation has three components.
Dacher Keltner, resident expert on the AWE aspect of appreciation at the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley, points to research that shows that spending one minute looking up at the trees make us more likely to help out someone in need than spending one minute looking at tall buildings. He tells us that awe is an evolutionary phenomenon that is good for our minds, bodies and, maybe most important of all, our social connections. What could be more helpful to a team?
What about the other components of appreciation? As I mentioned last time, research shows that appreciation is not used a great deal at work even though many of us rank it high in our strengths profiles. It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. And it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.
Obstacles to using our appreciation at work
In working with clients who have discovered this strength among their top five, I have often heard them lament, “I never thought of that as a strength!” One young woman (character strength of appreciation #1) told a group coaching session that she regularly takes walks in the local park to clear her head, improve her mood, and marvel at nature all around her. It helps her feel more connected to her team and to the purpose of the project. She was astonished to find that we are not all moved the same way.
Another member of the same group (character strength of appreciation #3) mentioned how much they love to see someone at the top of their game – whether that be a musician, a scientist, a sportsperson or… a work colleague nailing some task or a new skill. When asked whether they ever tell their colleague how much they appreciate them, the answer came back, “No, they know already what they have accomplished right? They don’t want to hear it from me!”
It is common to think that our positive opinion will not be valued, and yet experience and research says it is not so.
For example, fundraisers who felt appreciated raised 50% more than those who just came to work and did their job as normal.
Appreciation is more than just saying, “thank you”. And that is what makes it subtly different than gratitude – which gets lots of positive press by the way! It is about seeing the whole person, their strengths, their positive habits and giving them specific and personal appreciation. But how do you do that?
My favorite way is using character strengths. We all have all 24, which is great because (a) everyone expresses all of them at one time or another and (b) we cannot go wrong! Expressing appreciation for the character strength(s) people demonstrate is something I do often. I have never had anyone say “What? You think I am kind? I don’t think so!” or “You think I used my judgment during that meeting? Nope! I just tossed a coin.” Mostly people beam with pleasure or they share a story with me of why that behavior is important to them.
Four steps to full workplace appreciation:
Step 1 observe strengths in other people any time you can. You can strengths spot during movies, during family dinner, while watching sports on TV. Use the list below and practice until you feel brave enough to share what you see with someone else.
Step 2: Bring the list of strengths to a meeting at work. Instead of checking your messages on your smartphone under the table, hoping no-one will notice, keep the list of strengths with you, and listen to each speaker. Highlight the strengths you hear. Do this for a few days until you get comfortable. Don’t worry about being “right”!
Step 3: After the meeting is over, choose one person and tell them specifically what you saw and why you appreciate it. For example, “I really saw you using judgment as you weighed up the options for our next steps on the project. It really helped us to sort through everything and come to a good decision.” Or, “I really loved how you turned the mood around with your sense of hope! You helped everyone feel that this is possible, and we were able to figure out actions to get us where we need to be.”
Step 4: Note down afterwards (a) what their reaction was (b) how you felt.
Some common reactions from those you appreciate are:
Step 5: Do this for a few days and see what happens. Ripple effect anyone?
 Money, K., Hillenbrand, C., & Camara, N. D. (2008). Putting positive psychology to work in organizations. Journal of General Management, 34 (2), 21-26.
 In a workplace study of 120 participants, it was supervisor support, not colleague support, of employee strengths use that was predictive of increased strengths use the next day (Lavy, Littman-Ovadia, & Boiman-Meshita, 2016b).
 Gallup, Inc. “State of the American Manager.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 30 May 2019, www.gallup.com/services/182138/state-american-manager.aspx.
Research shows that appreciation – as measured by the VIA character strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence – is not used a great deal at work. It is often associated with appreciating nature, art, or skillful performances. And it is that last definition that is useful in teams in the workplace.
Subtly different than gratitude which is about being thankful, appreciation is the strength that allows us to see and name the skills, values, and contributions of people around us. It is a strength that makes calling out the contribution of a colleague more comfortable. And yet we don’t use it much at work.
The strange thing is that it is not an uncommon top strength – some research suggests that 4 out of 10 of us rank it as a top strength! Maybe we just don’t think to use it in the workplace. The same is often true of love – but that is another story!
Checking in on your sense of appreciation
When was the last time you took a stakeholder aside and thanked them for their contribution? Maybe you are good at thanking people – after all research shows that Gratitude is a top strength for about 25% of us.
When was the last time you told them why you are thanking them? Explaining what it is specifically that they bring to the table? Telling them in enough detail that they can repeat the behavior in the future and make it a permanent fixture in their project contributions. If it was recent that is great. But all too often, we go through the day on autopilot, taking in stride the contribution from colleagues. We are all too quick to notice when someone is not giving us what we want or need on a project, but when people do what we think they are supposed to, we tend to take it for granted. We may give a quick “thanks” to someone who has delivered on something
It starts with you
We do the same thing with ourselves. I often speak with groups and train people about character strengths. They are one of the triumvirate of strengths that when working well together put us in what Dr Neal Mayerson of the VIA Institute on Character calls, “the Power Zone”. The other two prongs are Talents and Skills. When we take our talents, build them with training and practice into skills and then add in our character strengths – those internal motivators that give us a sense of connection to what we are doing. This triangle of personal attributes – not unlike the talent triangle of leadership, strategic and technical skills in project management – creates our own capacity to excel.
The other topic we explore I talk about is strengths- blindness. Research shows that 66% of us are strengths blind we don’t actually know what we bring to the table. Often, the attributes that others find most remarkable – and most beneficial – about us we don’t even recognize as special, unusual or note-worthy. One of my coaching clients described her strengths of self-regulation (unusual as a high strength), prudence – the planning strength – and teamwork as boring! And yet her team described her as present, even- tempered and easy to work with. Are they talking about the same strengths? Yes, they are!
Two steps to full appreciation:
Step 1 is to appreciate the contribution YOU make. You can take the free VIA strengths assessment here: http://PMcom.pro.viasurvey.org
Or you can take a look at the strengths sheetbelow and just circle the top 5 that strike a chord with you.
Now watch out for them each day. For example, my top strengths are Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness & Gratitude.
Appreciation – I take a walk in the morning and take in the nature around me and appreciate the silliness of my dog. I look out for people going the extra mile and express my appreciation whenever I can (I also express my dismay when people don’t seem be doing what they are meant to be doing!)
Bravery – I try to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. I write a post about a new topic or make a call to a new person.
Curiosity – I allow myself to read about new topics, explore new ideas, and get perspective from new people. I also have to manage my curiosity so that I don’t go down rabbit holes!
What are your top strengths?
Make a note for the next 7 days of how each of your strengths show up now that you know about them.
Which ones are a surprise?
Which ones take a back seat at work? Where do they show up strong and present?
Next time in Building a Culture of Appreciation, we will explore expressing appreciation of others!
Strengths list with descriptions – reproduced with kind permission:
 Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 537-551
 Money, K., Hillenbrand, C., & Camara, N. D. (2008). Putting positive psychology to work in rganizations. Journal of General Management, 34 (2), 21-26.
 Character Strengths & Virtues 553-568
 TECHNICAL REPORT The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults ... (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Portals/0/2017 VIA Assessment Suite Technical Report.pdf
 Linley, A. (2008), Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press
Over the last couple of months, I have had the pleasure of offering two webinars exploring the use of character strengths as project managers. In the second webinar we moved onto the topic of seeing strengths in others - the second three phases in the SBPM model – See, Acknowledge, Leverage.
We used a sample profile created from attendees’ responses to the VIA Assessment. This is the kind of thing I do with project managers and teams when I work with them. The strengths profile of a team is an indication of team culture.
Some questions to consider are:
(c) ALLE LLC 2019
When talking about strengths spotting, a common question is:
How do I start?
The simple answer is “just start”. Attendees had a chance to spot strengths based on a real-life story of a woman’s experience as her husband has a heart attack. (Don’t worry! He recovered!) First, we practiced strengths-spotting and then reflected on a key point, which is that we are often the last people to be aware of our own strengths. During the exercise, attendees saw 15 or more strengths in the story, yet the story-teller only identified about five. This phenomenon, known as “strengths-blindness”, afflicts about 2/3 of us.
What we learn from this practice is:
When I told the storyteller our list, she did not say “no, you are all wrong, there are only five!” she was happy that all these strengths were present.
This is why I always say to people wondering how to start strengths-spotting – just do it! Get a list of the character strengths (Available from the handouts for the webinars here https://www.projectmanagement.com/deliverables/539329/Introduction-to-Strengths-Based-Project-Management---Seeing-the-Strengths-of-Others--Part-2---Supporting-Materials-Package) and when you are watching a movie, attending a meeting, watching your favorite sports person, visiting family – spot strengths. Circle the ones you notice. And as you get better at it, you will notice more and more.
But then what? Tell people what you see. Start with people you feel comfortable experimenting with and share what you saw – both the strength and the behavior so that your listener can do it again! Tell them why you value that. For example, “I really saw your judgment when you were asking questions and weighing all the information before making a decision. It really helped us to think through the problem and get to a good solution.” Or, “I really saw your teamwork when you stepped in to help the others get the work done this weekend. It shared the workload and made sure everyone gets at least a little time off.”
There are so many things we can with a framework of character strengths. Sometimes it can seem as though we are ignoring problems or people it is difficult to work with. When we are uncomfortable it often feels unnatural to start strengths-spotting. And yet, if you take a step back and look for the strengths in a person you find difficult, it opens up opportunities such as:
There are two things I tell people about character strengths:
Start strengths spotting today!
Have questions? Message me!
Over the last couple of months, I have had the pleasure of offering two webinars exploring the use of character strengths as project managers. In the first webinar, we focused on and developing your own strengths as a project manager. We were looking at the first three phases in the SBPM model – Understand, Cultivate, Model.
There is lots of great research on the benefits of starting from what is strong rather than what is wrong. For example, we know that positive emotions make us more open to ideas – including ideas about how we might learn and grow. Adopting a learning mentality – also known as “growth mindset” has been shown to lead to great feats. Of course, talents – innate abilities – help, but they don’t go anywhere if we don’t hone them and learn to apply them effectively.
It is important to differentiate between types of strengths –
A surprise to many people is that this last category of personality is one where we can change. For a long time, we believed personality is fixed once we get past a certain age. Recent research shows that through deliberate practice, we can change our personalities – character strengths work helps.
What do our strengths tell us and what do we want to do with that knowledge?
The first step is to understand what your strengths profile looks like. 365 attendees from 29 countries have taken the VIA Character Strengths Assessment to find out. For the purpose of the discussion, we looked at the results of an analysis of over 250 project manager assessments.
I explore two questions from attendees here:
It is tempting to think we need to build those strengths directly, and that is certainly an option. You can grow any strength through deliberate practice. Generally, more important though is to focus on mindful use of your own strengths. Think carefully about which strengths are helpful in a particular situation. Watch out for overuse of top strengths (see above) and underuse of your middle and lesser strengths. And don’t forget to partner up with people who are higher in strengths that compliment yours!
Actually, wrong! This question from attendee sent me back to my data for a closer look. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women tend to be higher in social and emotional intelligence and empathy. But the data we have on project managers says that women and men in this field rank about the same. There may be some individuals who rank social intelligence high, but for the most part, we are people who rank other strengths – such as prudence, forgiveness, and perseverance – higher.
Project managers tend to agree, Social Intelligence – the ability to read and adjust to others - is a strength that does not come easily. We can build it when we pay attention to our own strengths and behaviors and when we start to pay attention to the same in others. This is what strengths spotting is all about – a topic we cover in the second webinar.
Building a strength: I am working on the strength of self-regulation through developing a mindfulness practice among other things… what strength will you cultivate?
Here is a list for you to consider:
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Bravery, Creativity, Curiosity, Fairness, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Honesty, Hope, Humility, Humor, Judgment, Kindness, Leadership, Love, Love of Learning, Perspective, Perseverance, Prudence, Self-Regulation, Social Intelligence, Spirituality, Teamwork, Zest.
 Fredrickson, Barbara. Positivity: Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. Crown Publishers, 2009.
 Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: a Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want. Piatkus, 2013.
 Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. Ballantine, 2016.
 Syed, Matthew. Bounce: the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. HarperCollins, 2011.
 “Do Genes Influence Personality?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/under-the-influence/201307/do-genes-influence-personality.