There are many ways to create thriving workplaces. There are things we can do to improve relationships with co-workers. But why is being seen, heard and understood so effective? Why do we feel so good when it happens?

ignoring someone is a choice

Being seen means being noticed, and then not being ignored. Few things crush our spirit, disengage us and diminish our self-esteem like someone ignoring us. Being ignored is different from not being noticed. Failing to notice is unintentional. Everyone gets distracted. Different people focus on different things. Even if someone notices us, they might get busy and forget to acknowledge what we do. But ignoring someone is a choice. At one time or another we’ve all tried to ignore something or someone. It takes work.

Most of us don’t want everything we do acknowledged, but isn’t it great when something is? We’re also good at guessing when someone else wants acknowledgement. If you pick up on that vibe and do nothing, someone is probably going to feel ignored.

Often, when people feel ignored, they do something to get noticed. Maybe they talk about a good conversation they had with a customer, or they give us an unsolicited update on their project. When this happens, we need to hear it. Not being heard means that someone went out of their way to get noticed and were still ignored. That hurts.

understanding shows we care

Being understood goes beyond acknowledgement. Taking time to understand shows we care. We may not agree with someone, but we’ve taken time to listen, ask questions and empathize. It’s the people closest to us who, hopefully, really understand us. They get us. But we don’t need that depth of understanding from our bosses and co-workers. All we occasionally need is for them to understand our suggestions, concerns and needs.

So, what can we do to make people feel seen, heard and understood? If you don’t think you’re doing enough, try this:

· Accept that everyone wants to be seen, heard and understood. This acceptance will increase your awareness and then help you notice what they do

· Accept that when people are asking for acknowledgement, either directly or in their behavior, the power in the relationship has shifted to you. How they feel next is up to you

· Be a good listener by letting people speak, then paraphrase what they say and ask questions

· Empathize, even if you don’t agree or completely understand. For example, saying things like, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to speak to such a large audience,” or “Thanks for helping me understand how busy you are. Unfortunately, this new work still has to get done. What needs to change so you can complete it?”

· Understand that acknowledgement is different from complementing, and learn how to acknowledge

Learning how to acknowledge is one of the most powerful ways to improve performance and create thriving workplaces. Why? Acknowledgement focuses on accomplishment and its impact on the organization, not on personal attributes. Publicly praising someone’s intelligence, dedication or decisiveness often creates unproductive competition and animosity between co-workers. Also, praising people privately is risky because they might think you’re insincere or they just don’t believe they are as wonderful as you say.

acknowledgement shows you notice what people do and you can communicate the benefits

Getting acknowledgement right sounds like, “I’d like to acknowledge the impact of Christine’s project. The redesigned customer feedback portal has reduced our complaint resolution time from an average of two days to four hours.” Getting it wrong sounds like, “Christine’s dedication and creativity made this project a success.” The outcome of hard work is something we can see, but no one can really see inside of us to determine if we are actually dedicated or creative. Acknowledging something that Christine and everyone else can see serves Christine and her co-workers. Christine’s co-workers will see that you actually notice what people do and you can communicate the benefits.

Being seen, heard and understood, and making others feel the same way, is one element of thriving workplaces. Best of all, everyone wants it and it’s free.