Thursday, February 13, 2014

Group Works: Appreciation

This entry continues a series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:

1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith

In the Relationship segment there are 10 cards. The second pattern in this segment is labeled Appreciation. Here is the image and text from that card:

Enthusiasm and thankfulness are infectious, deepening trust and connection. Positive energy provides the most generative base for whatever comes next. Look for the good in what's happening and who people are, then work from there.
At first glance this pattern may seem minor. It may come across as a request to be civil, or to play nicely with others. And while that meaning is there, it's also deeper than that. 
A. Appreciation as Social Unguent
Appreciation is a powerful lubricant that reduces friction in relationships, work, and problem solving. When people feel recognized for their contributions—which is not the same as agreed with—they are more at ease, more fluid in how they hear others, and more likely to keep contributing. 
B. Expectations Affect Outcomes
Further, the positivity that is fostered by appreciation makes a demonstrable difference in the likelihood of finding solid solutions to joint issues—because you tend to find what you're looking for. When offerings are not appreciated, contributors get discouraged and less hopeful, undercutting the probability of a happy ending. Fortunately, the reverse is also true.
C. How Compliments Can Be Devalued
That said, appreciation can be overdone. If you start to smear it on every interaction as a matter of course, people will discount your sincerity. Appreciation will lose its potency if offered without discernment or authenticity.  

For most of my adult life it has been my practice to never offer appreciation unless I fully meant what I said. On the one hand, I've been criticized for being too liberal with criticism and too parsimonious with accolades; on the other, I have a solid reputation for the integrity of my appreciations—which I appreciate. 

Taking to heart the aphorism that you can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, in recent years I've been gradually altering my style to increase the ratio of honey to vinegar. Now I look for chances to appreciate, even to the point of neglecting to comment on things I don't care for, in order to emphasize those that I do. Mind you, I'm not saying I no longer offer criticisms. Rather, I'm saying I'm much more judicious in their expression, and more free with my compliments—so long as they still reflect my actual views.
D. Appreciations Reinforce We Thinking
Because mainstream Western culture is competitive, we tend to think first in terms of how we are different than others, rather than the ways in which we are the same. When someone makes a suggestion about something, we tend to respond first with how we disagree, rather than how we share their viewpoint. In short, we are conditioned to think in terms of "I" before we think in terms of "we."

Even though a commitment to cooperative culture means purposefully shifting more toward the we end of the spectrum, the tendency to reach first for individuation is deeply ingrained and it takes real work to have one's first comments be joining when the totality of our response is mixed. While I'm wholly in support of doing that work, it's important to understand that it is work.
E. Flower Power?
Finally, I find it amusing that in the image for this card, one person is handing another a red poppy—the flower from which opiates are derived. I'm not sure that's quite the message that was intended. Take this flower, which is given to you in remembrance of me. (Unfortunately, if you eat it, you probably won't remember me.)
At the end of the day, I appreciate the goofiness of life and the salutary effect of not taking oneself too seriously.

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