A closed mouth gathers no foot. It also gathers no friends. People want verbal affirmation of their attributes and accomplishments, not secret admirers.  Regardless of how far up the food chain someone has managed to climb, everyone wants to be assured of their value and worth.  

Even successful people like to be reassured of their significance.  Your boss with the posh corner office is not displaying a brag wall full of awards without hoping someone will see them. And those karate trophies bearing her children´s names prominently displayed behind her desk are to impress other people, who will hopefully ask her about them.     

When you notice and verbalize authentic regard for the accomplishments of others, you have gained far more in the goodwill department than you can imagine.  Instead of assuming that people at the top of their game are ultra-confident and self-assured, we always score points by verbalizing genuine respect and admiration.   

The Great Common Denominator—Esteem Needs

We have known for years that everyone is subject to common needs and desires.  One of the more famous descriptions of the basic motivations we all share comes from Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality, in which he explains that people share common desires.[1] He also reveals that everyone experiences a hierarchy of human needs.[2] When we experience the satisfaction of lower level needs (such as hunger) being met, higher needs to emerge.[3]

Transcending the satisfaction of lower level basic needs, Maslow describes esteem needs—namely the recognition that individuals seek to have a positive self-view based on the respect they receive from others.[4] People want to feel confident, receive attention, experience appreciation, and enjoy a sense of achievement and prestige.[5]

Ironically, many people regularly donate their time and money to provide for the satisfaction of the basic needs of the underprivileged, such as hunger and shelter, while neglecting the esteem needs of those who are financially secure.  Emotional needs, however, are often more powerful drivers of behavior than physical needs. 

Two of the most powerful emotional needs are admiration and appreciation.

Admiration: A Loyal Following

When famous attorneys are in trial in multi-million dollar cases, the audience is packed with young attorneys who idolize these trial stars.  In awe of their rainmaking role models, they are there not there to manipulate, but to emulate.  As busy as the famous trial attorneys are, the compliments on their performance that they receive on breaks or even on their website afterwards strike a chord, because genuine respect is music to our ears.

Similarly, in the workplace, some employees idolize the boss because they want to learn from the best.  Distinguishing themselves from insincere subordinates full of cheap flattery, authentic employees proactively seek out advice and guidance from higher-ups, viewing them as mentors. 

In the world of professional sports, many famous athletes are happy to sign autographs, enjoying their fame. Many athletes continue to bask in the glow of the public recognition of their athletic prowess and accomplishments well into their professional sports career.  In fact, some of them remain flattered even if they suspect the item they are signing will be resold on eBay—having become far more valuable bearing their signature. 

The Appeal of Appreciation: Words Matter

To people who slave away to make ends meet, scramble to meet deadlines, and juggle multiple obligations both personally and professionally, words matter.

Research demonstrates that everyone desires respect and appreciation.[6]  Appreciation and acknowledgment not only make people feel good, they also boost self-esteem and confidence.[7]  

In the workplace, affirming employees produces loyalty and dedication.  Everyone loves genuine praise from the boss.  Recognition of hard work cultivates employee satisfaction. 

In the court system where I work, judges and lawyers who express the sincere appreciation for the sacrifices jurors make to rearrange their schedule in order to fulfill their civic duty end up with jury panels dedicated to doing their job.

So instead of assuming all of the accomplished, famous, respected over-achievers in your life appreciate the significance of their status, validate their accomplishments and achievements by expressing your sincere admiration.  To you, such compliments are free.  To the recipient, they are priceless. 

[1]. Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 3rd ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1987), 6.

[2]. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 15−26.

[3]. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 17.

[4]. A. H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50, no. 4 (1943): 370−96 (381).

[5]. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” 381−82.

[6]. Researchers refer to these as face needs.  See, e.g., Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories of Human Communication, 7th ed. (Belmont: Wadsworth/ Thompson Learning, 2002), 109.

[7]. Roelof Hortulanus, Anja Machielse, and Ludwien Meeuwesen, Social Isolation in Modern Society (London: Routledge, 2006), 15.

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