Clean-Ups and Acknowledgement
Tools for Leadership and Engagement
Photo Credit Nathan Peavey
Early in my marriage, being older than my young wife, I often assumed that my greater experience in life gave me superior knowledge, which I would generously share with her in how she should handle various situations.
Shortly after we were married, my employment took me to the west coast, where she would join me after wrapping up her current work.
During our time apart, we would talk daily. After one call, in which she got a bit “edgy” with me, I left, grumbling , “man! Marlene just doesn’t appreciate what I’m dealing with in this new environment.”
Being new in this position, I had a mentor. I was explaining to Jerry, how Mar doesn’t appreciate the stress and demand I’m dealing with. Jerry listened patiently and then commented, “Craig you’re not listening to her.” My immediate response was a vigorous challenge to his interpretation. As I was winding down my protest and listening to myself …. I suddenly realized,
“Oh my God, Jerry is right.”
I listened to her like “I know,” not like her experience and interpretation of the moment was really real for her. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my self-righteousness!
I immediately called her back and acknowledged my blindness. I apologized for not listening to her and discounting her experience. I acknowledged how demeaning that must be.
My apology to her went deep.
I promised going forward to value her view. I vowed that if she did not feel heard and acknowledged, I would correct it. It turned into an emotional time for both of us.
I discovered later that if I had not cleaned up my impact, owned my blind spot, and committed to a correction, she may not have followed me out to the west coast.
We all have blind spots and they include behaviors that have undesired and unintended impacts on others. This is part of being human. It is also part of the human experience to impact others. I remember someone remarking, “if you get up in the morning you are going to be an intrusion on someone.”
Part of effective leadership is being aware of our impact, intentional or otherwise.
Leaders have two tools that are simple and powerful in consciously creating the kind of impact we want: Clean-ups and acknowledgment.
In our busy working lives, we create ripples in the tranquility of other people’s lives, usually unintentionally. It can be something we did, something that they think we did, didn’t do, or said. It doesn’t matter really…there was an impact! “Clean-up” is a tool to not only repair, but strengthen the partnership or relationship. “Clean ups” include, but go beyond, apologies.
It is not an acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing, and it is not about blame. The purpose of a clean-up is to acknowledge and take accountability for an impact, and for the way something landed on someone negatively, which always includes an emotional impact.
Clean-ups are letting another know that you recognize the emotional impact you had, and then apologizing for your role in it, even and especially if you didn’t actually do/say what they think you did. Acknowledging what happened to another always reduces the bite.
Steps of a Clean-Up:
1. Recognize or discover something happened that caused another person to react negatively.
2. Recognize and acknowledge your involvement in the other person’s emotion about the experience.
3. Apologize for the impact you had on the person’s emotions.
4. Reaffirm a commitment to the partnership.
This is one of the most powerful practices a leader can have.
It is a critical discipline for building trust. Authenticity required!
Psychology Today notes apologies, a crucial part of cleaning up, actually affects the body functions of the receiver by decreasing blood pressure, slowing heart rate and softening breathing. It’s likewise relaxing to the one apologizing.
How about intended impacts? In our efforts to empower people and engage them, one of the most effective and accessible tools leaders have is appreciation and acknowledgement.
In a recent webinar, Steven Kotler was interviewing Dr. Michael Gervais, a psychologist and Executive Coach for some pretty big players. Gervais commented that 70% of people question their value to their team, and 74% do not feel like it’s safe to speak up about critical issues if it’s inconsistent with what their boss is saying.
Acknowledging people and expressing appreciation for them and what they do can and does significantly reduce those statistics.
While it’s useful to point to specific things the person did, what really anchors the acknowledgement is tying it to a particular character quality the person has.
Example: “you did a great job on this report, I especially appreciate your commitment to detail and clarity, which makes your work great.”
We have expressed in our work with organizations that making their employees or members feel acknowledged and appreciated for the work they do is one of their most critical accountabilities, no matter how busy you are.
It’s a fast track to a transformed business.
It lets people feel recognized, it leaves them wanting to do more of the same, and it builds trust. You can’t buy that!
As we are building a playbook for the Economics of Decency, Cleanups and Acknowledgements are two of the fundamental tools.
I started today with a personal story about what not acknowledging my impact on another could have cost me. That experience is fresh on my mind, since Marlene and I just spent the weekend celebrating our 34th anniversary.
Since that kind of situation happens daily in all kinds of businesses, you can just start adding zeros if you want to measure the costs there.
We hope your Memorial Day was memorable.