You can’t have too much of a good thing…or can you? In response to my recent post on the importance of making employees feel valued, one of my readers, Todd, asked, “Can you overdo appreciation?”  

Until recently, I believed there was no such thing as over-appreciating someone, or at least, I could not have told you what “overdone” appreciation looks like. Then, just a few months ago, I started attending a new networking group, where I met Janet.

The first time we spoke, Janet pointed at me and announced to the entire group, “This one is special.” Of course, I relished in the glow of her warm words. But over the course of the meeting, she said the same things about me (in different ways) at least half a dozen times. I was new to the group, so I overlooked my increasing discomfort and graciously accepted each compliment.

The second time I saw Janet, she kindly introduced me to another dozen people, again telling each one how extraordinary I am. About halfway through that networking function, her compliments started to feel inauthentic, and I began wondering what she wanted from me.

So, when I received Todd’s e-mail, I asked about the experiences that motivated his question.  He explained:

When I worked for Karen, the CEO at XYZ Company, she would say “thank you” and “great job” so often that it didn`t even seem like she meant it. It was as perfunctory as, “Hey, how are you?” So, the other employees and I never actually knew if we were doing a great job or if she was actually grateful, or if she was just saying it as part of her routine.

After I looked up, “perfunctory,” I began wondering how many leaders struggle with this very issue – striking the balance between making employees feel appreciated and coming across as genuine.

So, how do you ensure that each compliment is well received?

  1. Be specific. “Thank you” is a very powerful phrase. But to make sure those words don’t lose their impact, try getting more specific. For example, you could say something like, “I really enjoy watching you lead Jeff; it’s clear he feels empowered by your mentoring,” or “You’ve got some mad skills with Excel, and I really appreciate you producing such a valuable slide for my meeting,” or even “Your passion for your work really shines through. I’m grateful to have you on my team.”
  2. Be authentic. If you’re not really feeling it, don’t say it. People can sense when your appreciation stems from an ulterior motive. Acknowledging or appreciating others is not about getting them to do something; rather, it’s about letting them know that what they’re doing is awesome.
  3. Acknowledge/appreciate yourself. It’s difficult to give others what you do not give to yourself. Take a few minutes alone each day to acknowledge your successes. This will help you learn to look for accomplishments and practice appreciating them.

The vast majority of us were never shown how to appreciate and validate others, for fear of giving them a “big head.” Yet, it is an incredibly effective leadership tool for increasing productivity, engagement and retention…you know, all the good things we want from our teams.  

So, yes, you can overdo inauthentic appreciation. But specific words of genuine admiration and gratitude never lose their value. And the more consistent you are with this type of leadership, the better results you’ll see…both in how you feel and how they respond.