George has been a faithful employee for 10 years. He rarely calls out sick, never arrives to work late, or goofs off on the job. He is an ideal employee, the backbone of the company, slaving day after day nose to the grindstone. The only problem is that he’s so wonderfully reliable, his work runs so smoothly that he’s often overlooked, hardly noticed, easily taken for granted. His boss barely gives him any notice, rarely spares him a word, encouraging or discouraging. This diligent employee is practically invisible. And now he’s so unhappy he’s planning his exit, as so many other backbone employees do also, for the same reason.
12-year old Lynn comes from a large family of 5 siblings. Things are so hectic at home, no one can stand out. It’s a fight to get any part of her parents’ attention, who are so stressed out most of the time anyway, there’s not much time left for anything or anyone. Lynn gets the attention she craves the bad girl way; she’s the class cutup. She regularly gets sent to the principal’s office, which forces at least one of her parents to come to school yet again. “I think she actually enjoys getting into trouble!” laments her overly stressed mother. Indeed she does.
At the grocery store the 2-year old is throwing a fit in the candy aisle. The toddler is in full-on four limb flail accompanied by an ear-splitting wail, “I WANT it!!” A crowd has gathered to insure there is no harm being done, then turns away with disapproving looks as the young mother tries, with limited success, to contain and shut down the embarrassing situation as quickly as possible.
Everyone has a visceral, primal need to be appreciated, feel important, be noticed, leave a mark. We are on this earth to expand the gene pool, to insure survival of the species, to gain immortal through our offspring. This is true of every species, who fight for survival, to not become irrelevant and forgotten. But in humans, this need to make a difference takes on greater meaning beyond what other species strive for.
Adult humans search for an identity, for a meaning not just for existence, but for our own individual existence. We wonder “Why am I here? What am I meant to do?” Those who find the answer work towards it with a warm feeling of purpose. Those who don’t find it feel unfulfilled and aimless as they seek to discover the meaning behind the gift of their birth. Maybe their purpose is to serve others (be a good parent, sibling, friend, son/daughter), or it’s vocational, or they are called to a higher purpose.
The need to make a difference is ingrained, is so important that it should never be discounted, especially when communicating with others. No one wants to be overlooked, ignored, made to feel like they are so trivial that they don’t matter. Treating people like this, either individually or as a group, is highly detrimental to any relationship. Expressing appreciation of others is an easily learned and valuable skill. Give others the respect they deserve and crave.
If you are the boss, to George or to any employee, make him feel appreciated. The top employee complaint is not pay, it’s not heavy workload, it’s lack of meaningful communication. Toiling for hours, days, years in an appreciation vacuum is miserable beyond tolerance. Sure, no one is indispensable, actually most are replaceable (some easier than others, but all eventually), but that reality is best not flaunted. And the opposite must be cultivated, to gain loyalty and boost morale.
This need for personal attention applies to everyone. Toddlers, ‘bad’ students, good employees. Everyone wants to be special, at least feel special enough to have a meaningful impact.
As a senior, my son was a decent high school tennis player, but not nearly good enough for one of the coveted singles spots. On a small 9-person team, he was hanging onto a 2nd doubles slot, with other younger classmates chomping at the bit. But his ego was insulted and he quit the team overrating himself with a, “They’ll miss me when I’m gone!”
Lionel Richie was discussing his 40 year music/song writing career. He was asked, “Your music brings such pleasure to so many people, but what do you get out of it?” He could have answered so many things, like ‘music feeds my soul’, or ‘it makes me feel complete’, or ‘it makes me feel truly alive’ – but instead he answered the first thing he thought, “I know I didn’t waste my life”. There it is. The pressing desire to make a difference, leave a mark, be remembered in service to others, in the limited time that we have on this earth.
Keeping this human need for appreciation in mind will help your communication with others. Make them feel included, important, integral if possible. Having a BBQ and want others to attend? Assign them a needed ingredient to bring. Looking for group buy-in on a big project? Delegate each person an important piece of the overall responsibility to handle.
Think ‘esteemed partner’, ‘prized teammate’, ‘valued associate’ when interacting with others. Feed into this primal need that everyone has to feel important and included. Not only is it key, but as a side benefit they’ll love you for it.
Have an example of this concept in action?