Reality Check: The Gift of Recognition

When you flip through the flyers, watch TV, or even read a newspaper at this time of year, you’ll see gift suggestions. There’s lots of opportunity to show that you care by buying something.

As I was pondering gift-shopping, some recent conversations about “stuff” also came to mind. Many of us who have accumulated years of life have also accumulated years of stuff.

That stuff had value when we acquired it—either sentimental or monetary. Some stuff may have come into our lives during times of little money, giving it an even higher perceived value.

Times change. Tastes change. And along comes a recognition by many that we don’t need or want more stuff.

Yet, during this joyful season, we want to give something to people we love. We’d like to express, “You’re special to me” with a gift.

While I was sitting idly at my computer, pondering life, the universe, and everything, my eyes rested on the icon of a saved document. It tells the story of a woman who has used some of the skills that she has apparently learned from me, and how having those skills had made a situation better.

I kept the document. It’s meaningful for me. It reminds me that it is possible to help each other. Fundamentally, it’s a recognition that what I do has value.

The value of meaningful recognitions is well–known in business. If you want to be a genuine leader, one of the skills to develop is that of recognizing the contributions of others. Kouzes and Posner devote an entire chapter of their hugely successful book, “The Leadership Challenge” to recognizing contributions.

Think of people whom you consider successful. Might their ability to develop good relationships and recognize the contributions of others be a factor in their success?

How about our personal lives? Does it matter if we express that we recognize the contributions of the people around us? I think it does.

There’s a world of difference between thinking, “Jeannie makes an amazing contribution,” and saying, “Jeannie, you make an amazing contribution.”

We don’t have to agree with every single thing a person does, or every opinion they have, to find some quality that’s worthy of recognition.

So, maybe old Uncle Arney does have some political views that you just can’t stomach. You can still take an opportunity to recognize his hand-carving wizardry. Maybe Sally has a harsh perspective on “young people today” but she has a heart filled with tenderness when it comes to cats. Recognize the contributions that you genuinely appreciate. Part of the gift is to let the rest of it go.

An additional benefit is that this gift-giving requires no special season. If you show up unexpectedly with flowers and wine, you are likely to be asked, “What’s the occasion?” (Or, “What do you want?”) But you can give a gift of recognition anytime; no occasion or gift exchange required.

The gift of recognition is not without a cost. It does cost. To give recognition well takes time. You need to put some thought into what you are recognizing. Then, you need to write it down, or deliver it in person. Either way, it is a gift of the most precious possession of our lives: our time.

So when you are struggling with what to give someone who seems to already have everything, and who really does not want any more stuff, here’s my suggestion.

Offer a recognition. A thoughtful consideration of what you find special about that person. What you admire, respect, value.

If you think that’s not enough of a gift, you could always add chocolate.

Do you make a habit of recognizing the contributions of others? How do you do it?

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