During 2014 I spent a great deal of time studying the work of Alison Armstrong, from Pax Incorporated, who is globally recognised for her research on the development of men and women with a particular focus on the ways in which we can create effective partnerships.
One of the many areas that Alison focuses on as a critical factor in partnership success is the simple yet profoundly impactful act of showing appreciation. Through her work and observations in this area, Alison has created what she refers to as “The Appreciation Equation” which helps us to determine whether relationships are balanced or imbalanced in this area.
Alison’s basic ‘equation’ is that we subconsciously allocate quantitative values to the level of appreciation we receive when we do something for someone else and we also measure in the same way the level of appreciation we get for that same act. Where there is a difference, the equation is out of balance either positively or negatively and this affects our ongoing behaviour in that situation – sound confusing? Yes, it did to me when I read that piece back to myself but really it isn’t… I will have another go at explaining it with an example.
Imagine that we have just decided complete a report for a colleague at work who has been away due to illness to help them with their workload. It requires us to stay back for a couple of hours one evening but we feel that it will help them when they return to work the following week so we give our time and effort to complete the task to support them.
The first possible response:
The colleague returns to work and we mention that we have already completed the report for them and they give us a nod and quick ‘oh ok’ before they head back to their desk. We may feel that this was insufficient appreciation given that it wasn’t something we were not required to do and it took us additional time. This may leave us feeling a little underwhelmed.
The second possible response:
They return and are genuinely relieved that some of their work was done and express their gratitude to us openly. This may leave us feeling great about what we have done to help them.
The third possible response:
They return to work and give us a heartfelt thank you and offer to do us a favour in return one day, they follow this up with a bunch of flowers left on our desk the following morning which may leave us feeling a little overwhelmed at such a show of appreciation.
Alison explains that in our own minds. we tend to allocate a measure to these responses and the result of this measure is what determines our behaviour with this person moving forward – let me explain this further.
As I demonstrated in the first response, when we feel that the appreciation we received was not sufficient for what we provided the ‘appreciation equation’ outcome will be negative because we may have felt that the task warranted a 5 out of ten appreciation response and we only received a 2 out of ten appreciation response, so we end up feeling underwhelmed because our equation outcome is minus 3. To calculate, just take away what you measure it as requiring for you from what you measure as actually received, 2 – 5 = -3
In the second response, the appreciation received was probably equal to that which we expected so the equation result would be zero which leaves everything balanced. 5-5=0
In the third response, when we feel that the appreciation we received was more than the value of the action we provided then it will be a positive number. In this instance we expected a 5 but the appreciation was probably an 8 so our equation is again imbalanced but this time in the positive by 3. 8-5=3
Equations that end up in zero result in this type of action being able to be sustained because it is balanced and fair. What this means is that we will keep doing things like this for our colleague because we will continue to receive what we need in terms of appreciation.
Equations that result in a number higher than zero will encourage us to do more, give more and so on. Human nature drives us to find balance and equalise so we will start to give more to make it equal. At work we will try to beat the deadline, throw things in for free or find ways to do more for that person or the company. If we can’t do more for that particular person, the drive to equalise will compel us to give to others. Alison says that appreciation gives birth to magic because appreciation comes from human spirit and feeds human spirit.
Equations that result in a negative number will have the reverse effect over time and result in us not wanting to sustain that activity and in fact behave in a way that takes away from that activity or person in the future. Appreciation is fuel so when there isn’t enough our tank will be empty and this will cause resistance to keep putting in effort and resentment toward the person or situation. We are again compelled to equalise because as a human animal we cannot give more than we are getting because instinct says that if we do we will die. We have been wired for survival throughout our evolution so we are acutely aware of how much energy we expend and we work to preserve this when we start to get depleted. Quite simply, back in the cave man era if we had less calories than we used we would die and this programming now applies to any energy we use including emotional energy.
When a negative ‘appreciation equation’ occurs on an ongoing basis, we start to have a ‘you owe me’ attitude and this will activate the sense of fear, scarcity and so on. We can find ourselves reducing what we do for that person to ‘conserve’ our energy and use it in areas where we know we will get fuel for our tanks.
Can you think of relationships in your business and personal life where the appreciation equation is imbalanced?
What do you need to do to bring more balance into your ‘transactions’ to make sure that you have the fuel you need and that you also provide the fuel that others need?
Next post I will talk about the different ways that we can show appreciation and how important it is to ‘pay’ people in the ‘currency’ they need to be paid in….. really interesting stuff!
Until next time