In many organizations it is seen as part of good manners to expect all members to show an appreciative attitude towards each other. There are always, it is said, ‘appreciation-starved employees’ walking the corridors looking for potential ‘appreciators’ to provide them with some of what they lack. The demand that one be appreciated is, it has been said, a demand that one may issue whenever and wherever, but deep down inside one knows that the demand is based on an insatiable desire.
While criticism of the overuse of the concept of ‘appreciation’ is justified, we should not underestimate the importance of appreciation in the context of person-oriented consulting. What is at issue here are not the ritual courtesies that lubricate daily interactions within organizations. The issue is how to relate to individuals who exhibit forms of behaviour that do not always merit appreciation.
Appreciation is needed when a consultancy relationship with an individual is to be established or maintained. This is why psychotherapists, at least those working with an intersubjective approach, always seek to appreciate their clients and, if they do not take to them spontaneously, try to find aspects of their clients’ personalities that they genuinely like and can appreciate. In the same way, coaches need to look for positive character traits in their clients, even if initially they are repelled, say by their narcissism. If one does not seek out the admirable sides of the other person, empathy and change-effecting interaction are impossible.
The right dosage of appreciation
But universal mutual appreciation is not necessary within organizations. In organization studies, one basic idea – repeated again and again in various formulations – is that the individual members of an organization do not offer their ‘whole person’ to the organization but only that part of themselves that is relevant to their ‘role as a member of the organization’. This liberates members not just from the constant need to be perceived as a whole person but also from the need to look for likeable characteristics in all other members so as to be able to appreciate them as whole persons.
Not only is universal mutual appreciation unnecessary but the attempt to transform an organization in this direction destroys those isolated instances in which appreciation is genuine and meaningful. No one will ever persuade the members of an organization that all the actions that take place within it are valuable. Even primary school kids smell a rat when every piece of homework is returned with a smiley face stamped at the bottom. It is no different with employees, who feel they are being taken for fools when the slogan ‘added value through appreciation’ is used to promote the ideal of universal appreciation.
One should show someone else one’s appreciation only when it is functional for the organization, for example in the case of coaching employees, caring for patients, or teaching pupils. Those who preach the necessity of appreciation in any and all circumstances may show that they are at home with the jargon that dominates the consulting and management scenes, but they also demonstrate that they do not understand the real value that appreciation can have for an organization.