Some Emailed Comments on "The Value of Appreciation"

I want to share a few of the reactions and responses we've had to the essay last week on the value of appreciation in a business context. For the original essay, click back to The Philosopher's Corner, Friends' Essays, and click on the previous posting.

From David O'Connor

This powerful anecdote reminds me of themes in two of my "wisdom nuggets" elsewhere on The Philosopher's Corner, titled "Professionalism and Happiness" and "Should Princes Be Charming?". But let me add a thought drawn from my experience as a teacher at Notre Dame. Students fresh from high school need to learn one thing above all others: dissatisfaction. Ralph Waldo Emerson called this taking your bearings from your unattained but attainable self. But I can't provoke my students into this habit of aspiration simply by expressing my own dissatisfactions with them. They have to be convinced I see that attainable self as a reality, and then they want to prove my vision of them true. I try to make every criticism into an invitation.

Here's one concrete example. Most professors' comments on student papers point out errors or failings to be removed. This is pretty much useless for getting students to improve. When I write a comment on a student paper, I try to find the strongest sentence or paragraph in the student's writing, and I prod the student to make the weaker things in the paper come up to that standard. This makes the student's unattained but attainable self visible. I don't ignore their weaknesses, but I try mostly to excite their own aspirations to excellence. This redirects their energies from pleasing me to living up to their own ideals. Give this strategy a try!

From Ed Brenegar

This is a great illustration of the need for a more humane understanding of the relationship between management and employees. Management has the tough job of meeting the financial goals set by their executives. It is an easy tendency to see production workers as a means to the end of increased profit. What can be missed in this equation is the fact that the person on the manufacturing line or sitting at the desk interacting with customers has a knowledge of the company that no outside consultant can provide. That intimate view of the interface between product and customer is worth gold if management can tap into it. The question is how to foster the kind of partnerships between management and employees that enables the company to succeed at ever higher levels, while all participants feel valued.

The question for us to ask is whether relationships within business are just so much touch-feely non-quantifiable soft stuff, or is it the foundation for collaboration that enables deeper insight on how to serve customers well with better products. I think the notion this illustration presents of the importance of appreciation is only part of the story. Creating an environment that enhances the collaborative relationships of management and staff is built on trust. In If Aristotle Ran General Motors, Tom expounds on this well. All I would add is that trust is a product of respect, and is expressed in the honoring of others for their contributions. Honor is recognition. It distinguishes people for their contribution. And it takes on greater value when there is an environment of belonging within the company. By belonging, I simply mean that people love their company, what it stands for, what it offers to its customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities it touches. When the company celebrates its values, it sends the signal to its workers that they should be proud to be contributors. When the company honors them, it not only establishes a measure for contribution, but sets the goal higher for the future.

From Diane Berg


My reaction to the story in this email message is that many times, for all the world to see, we are tough and hard - we set up courses of action that are only to retaliate and pay back. And all the while we are carrying words in our pocket that remind us that we've been wounded. It is amazing to me how delicate our spirits are when they are naked and open and how little it takes to feed them and keep them full. Oh, the power and value of The Golden Rule.

From Tom Coble

The prevailing mentality of this particular organization, at least at that location, is painful to hearabout, but one that is all too prevalent. Because of this, it's my belief that we all have to teach ourselves the inner contentment of a job well done. If we are constantly trying to excel at our duties, conducting ourselves professionally and ethically, consistently putting in more than our fair share and helping those around us, then we can live the inner peacefulness that we are doing our part in making a better organization.

Unfortunately, this kind of superlative behavior often falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. So there is a need to make others in the organization aware of what kind of job we're doing. We have to be excellent marketers of ourselves. There is a sales term called "the focus of receptivity." In short, it refers to always having someone (at a reasonably high level) in your various accounts that you can really talk to and get their full attention - someone who will always take your phone call, have a lunch with you or listen to a you about a new idea, product or service. A friend, more or less. I think the same thing holds true in our own companies. Unless it is simply an awful organization, there are always at least a couple of mid-to-high level people whose hearts and heads are in the right place. We need to make sure we develop a relationship with these folks, and let them know about the job we're doing. Chances are that they have the ear of other key people in the company. Furthermore, they probably have contacts in other organizations and could act as a reference if we eventually felt that leaving was the best option.

It's really too bad that we have to go through such a difficult obstacle course to get recognition for our output. Ideally, we find companies that recognize excellence. Too often, we don't. And leaving is not always a viable option. Companies themselves face similar issues. An excellent company that does not do a good job of marketing itself is going to struggle. Other businesses and consumers need to be made aware of how good the company is or it will likely fail. It's just a fact of life that we need to do the same with ourselves. I know it's against some people's nature to actively promote themselves. But sometimes all it takes is a bi-weekly cup of coffee with a manager or a VP. The word will get itself out, and they'll most likely pick up some knowledge in return.

From Lauren Patch

When companies or managers fail to pay attention to the "universal spiritual needs" of their associates, no "understanding" is achieved. It develops a culture that is a death spiral of the Golden Rule. Pretty soon, employees treat managers with the negativism they encounter and a deterioration in relationships is inevitable. Isn't this firm lucky to have found someone who took the initiative to attend to its problem?


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