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  • We love recognition,

  • but we suck at it.

  • Whether we want to admit it or not,

  • recognition plays a huge role in our day-to-day lives,

  • in our happiness, in our well-being,

  • both at work and in our personal relationships.

  • But the problem?

  • We are horrible at it.

  • We are horrible about giving it,

  • we suck at receiving it, myself included.

  • And the problem is, most of us don't even know it.

  • I had a rule for a year

  • that no matter whoever I sat next to, on the plane or on the subway,

  • even if they had earphones on or they were asleep,

  • I had to get their attention

  • and I had to interview them.

  • And my first question was always,

  • "What makes a good acknowledgment or compliment by a boss or supervisor?"

  • Once they realized I wasn't hitting on them,

  • trying to sell them something or get them to join a cult,

  • then they would open up and they would tell story after story

  • of the boss who never recognized them,

  • the parents whose approval they wanted to gain

  • or the teacher who made a profound difference in their life.

  • 365 of these interviews later

  • I've come to understand one thing for sure:

  • We are crazy. (Laughter)

  • We are!

  • And our relationship to recognition is confusing,

  • it doesn't make much sense.

  • For example, I interviewed my landlord when I lived in Boston.

  • I said, "Cathy, what is your relationship to recognition?"

  • "Oh, I love recognition, but it makes me so uncomfortable."

  • Cathy explained, "I was at my retirement party." --

  • Cathy worked at this organization for over 2 decades --

  • "All of my colleagues were telling stories and thanking me.

  • I loved it, but I was so embarrassed."

  • What I saw with Cathy is what I saw in nearly all of my interviews,

  • that the majority of us

  • have this often multi-sided conflicting relationship to recognition:

  • I love it, but I get so embarrassed;

  • it motivates me,

  • but I worry I won't be able to produce the same result in the future;

  • or I don't like recognition;

  • or I don't need recognition.

  • But after asking a few questions,

  • it always turns to, "I'm not comfortable with recognition"

  • or "I'm not supposed to need recognition."

  • So, I don't know about you,

  • but I always thought that recognition

  • was supposed to be something positive, right?

  • Right?

  • So, that's what doesn't make sense.

  • That's why we are crazy.

  • Why, if this is supposed to be something positive,

  • do we all have these conflicting relationships to it?

  • So right after Cathy said,

  • "It makes me embarrassed," I immediately asked why.

  • Without skipping a beat,

  • "Fourth grade, school --

  • in the middle of class my teacher goes, 'Cathy stand up!'"

  • So Cathy slowly stands up.

  • "Now everybody look at Cathy.

  • Now that is a perfect uniform.

  • All of your uniforms should look just like Cathy's." (Laughter)

  • Awkward! (Applause)

  • We all have these past experiences or associations with recognition

  • and it's these past experiences or associations

  • that dictate how we experience recognition right now.

  • Now I am not a psychiatrist

  • and we are not going to, I'm not going to go all Freud

  • and talk about our childhood traumas,

  • what happened to you in 5th grade,

  • and what your mom said to you, and we are not going to talk about you.

  • We are not going to talk about all our childhood traumas.

  • But what I do want to talk about

  • are some of the things that we do

  • to ourselves and to others

  • that keep these conflicting associations in place,

  • limiting our ability to effectively give and receive recognition,

  • and limiting our ability to actually get present

  • to our own accomplishments.

  • If you go back to Cathy's example --

  • Can you see what Cathy's teacher did was not actually recognize her?

  • Okay, maybe her uniform was spotless;

  • it was perfect.

  • But she wasn't actually recognizing Cathy.

  • She was using Cathy to teach the other kids in class a lesson.

  • That's not recognition; that's manipulation.

  • I told you that my first question when I was doing interviews was,

  • "What makes a good acknowledgment by a boss or supervisor?"

  • 9 times out of 10, people didn't tell me what made a good acknowledgment,

  • but instead, what made a bad one.

  • And I was able to establish several ineffective practices

  • that actually break down trust

  • and actually hurt our relationships and our connection with others.

  • And I want to start today by sharing three of them with you.

  • Number 1: I hate it when my boss give me compliments

  • right before they ask for something. (Applause)

  • Joe, habibi. (Laughter)

  • You were an all star last week in that sales meeting. All star!

  • Can you get me this report by five?

  • How many people have a boss or a friend who does that?

  • Yeah, by the way this is being recorded.

  • (Laughter)

  • Okay, now here is the real question:

  • How many of you do this?

  • Ah, less hands!

  • You are all liars! (Laughter)

  • 'Cause you do this too.

  • Mom, you are so pretty.

  • I love you!

  • Can I have 5 dollars?

  • We all do this.

  • Number 2, and by the way my mother's watching this.

  • So mom that wasn't about you.

  • Okay.

  • Number 2: I hate it when my boss sandwiches feedback

  • or criticism between two compliments.

  • Also known as sandwiching, less eloquently known,

  • excuse my language, as "the shit sandwich".

  • (Laughter)

  • George, Rona, you are such an asset to our team,

  • but if you make a mistake like you did last week again,

  • we are going to have to let you go.

  • But, we are really glad you are here, really, really!

  • Right?

  • Or -- you are a really great guy but I just want to be friends --

  • Hug?

  • (Applause)

  • Any compliment followed by a "but" is not actually a compliment.

  • The problem? We have actually been trained to do this.

  • This is a standard feedback model.

  • If you go to any business school you are going to get taught this.

  • When you get feedback you are going to just put it between the two sandwiches.

  • And it's not always wrong,

  • if we actually mean the compliments on either end.

  • But most of the time, we don't.

  • We are using those to make ourselves feel more comfortable.

  • Okay! Number 3:

  • This is what we do when other people are getting recognized and we are not.

  • Imagine yourself at a staff meeting, at a family retreat,

  • and that other guy or girl are getting recognized and you are not.

  • If we like them, we are happy for them.

  • Jealous, but happy for them.

  • But if not, we are nasty.

  • Jerk, kiss-ass --

  • You guys have seen him. He doesn't really do any work, does he?

  • Yeah!

  • Now here is the question:

  • When you are getting publicly recognized,

  • what are you worrying people are thinking about you?

  • Similar? Usually it is.

  • Before you judge, give people the benefit of the doubt.

  • Plus, I think it's time to give up the idea

  • that someone else's success is our failure.

  • Because that's just made up!

  • (Applause)

  • Now, when we do these ineffective practices

  • we worry people are going to do them with us.

  • And if you want to stop worrying about them,

  • you gotta stop doing them.

  • So this is what we do to others.

  • What I want to talk about now is one of the things we do to ourselves.

  • So you know when you start a new project at work,

  • or you set a new goal for yourself?

  • You get this idea in your mind

  • what that end result is going to look like.

  • I'm going to organize an event and a thousand people

  • or a thousand two hundred people are gonna come.

  • (Applause) Right? Go TEDx!

  • Okay!

  • And it's going to be extraordinary!

  • And then you produce a result.

  • And say 800 people show up

  • and people are coming up to you saying,

  • "Thank you, that was such a cool event, that was amazing!"

  • But we don't hear it 'cause what are we focused on?

  • We are focused on the gap.

  • The gap between what we actually produced

  • and what we had in our mind that we are going to produce.

  • And then when people are coming up to us,

  • they are actually recognizing us for this result.

  • That's what they are experiencing.

  • But that little voice inside our head blocks out all those compliments

  • and it focuses on, "Yeah well, 200 people didn't show up,

  • and you didn't do that, you didn't do that, yeah, yeah thanks for the compliment."

  • Yap, but I didn't do that, and I didn't do that --

  • See it's really important to focus on the gap,

  • to pay attention to the gap.

  • That's where we learn and that's where we develop.

  • But if we only focus on the gap,

  • that's how we go crazy, and that's how we burn ourselves out

  • and the people around us out.

  • So what's important is: Before you look at this,

  • stop and look here.

  • Look at what you did accomplish and all the things

  • and the ups and downs you went through to produce this result.

  • 'Cause that's what gets us present to our motivation

  • and that's what gets us present to the passion

  • that helps us overcome the gap the next time.

  • Okay.

  • So, this is what we do to ourselves and others.

  • And because we've been trained to focus on the gap our whole life

  • and not hearing what people are saying,

  • or because of these ineffective practices that people are using,

  • and also because of these past associations, the craziness,

  • I found that we've actually established

  • this sort of conditioned response to recognition.

  • Like Pavlov's dogs, when the bell was ringing they would salivate;

  • someone gives us a compliment and -- "It was nothing!"

  • "It was nothing! I swear!" or, "Voila" or, "It was a team effort."

  • And maybe it was a team effort, but, but -- Here is my but, okay?

  • Maybe it was a team effort, but that's not accepting the compliment.

  • We quickly divert the recognition away.

  • We also make jokes,

  • or we play compliment ping-pong:

  • I love your dress! I love your shoes!

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • And sometimes it's even culturally institutionalized.

  • Someone told me recently that in certain parts of China

  • it's actually considered impolite to accept a compliment.

  • And also we find it in language.

  • In French I say, "Merci," and you respond with --

  • Audience: "De rien!"

  • Direct translation:€“ "It's nothing!"

  • Diversion, okay, you see it in Spanish as well.

  • But there's an impact when we divert recognition.

  • What most people don't realize

  • is that a compliment is oftentimes

  • more about the giver than it is about the receiver.

  • And when someone offers us a compliment, it's like they are offering us a gift.

  • And when we divert it,

  • it's like we are taking that gift and throwing it back in their face.

  • So even if you don't like it,

  • even if you don't agree with it, just say, "Thank you."

  • And if it made a difference, let them know.

  • My friend Carol told me a story.

  • She said, "When I was in fourth grade --

  • and by the way I don't know why everything

  • seems to happen in fourth grade, but it does.

  • We should look at that.

  • Marge, you can talk about that one, okay.

  • Tell me what happens in fourth grade.

  • (Applause)

  • She said, "When I was in fourth grade,

  • right before going on maternity leave,

  • my teacher Mrs McKay-Hill came up to me and she says,

  • 'Carol, you know you are a really great student,

  • you know you are going to be okay,

  • you are going to do great things.'"

  • Carol said, "I don't know what it was about what she said,

  • but I went from being shy and reserved, to taking on sports,

  • taking on AP classes, and just going for it."

  • And she goes, "That compliment made such a huge difference