headshot of George Dinwiddie with books he's written

iDIA Computing Newsletter

December 2023


I remember Dale Emery giving a wonderful keynote at a software development conference about introducing organizational change. He put up a slide with "WIIFM" in large letters and asked what question did people have when the powers that be asked them to work in a different way. Then he pointed out that what concerned people wasn't "what's in it for me," but "what's in it FROM me?" People who have been contributing value under the way things have been working are often uncertain how, or if, they can do so as well if everything they're accustomed to doing changes to something else.

People like to feel valuable. At the heart of many psychological problems is that people have lost their feeling of self-worth. We need to feel that we matter, both to ourselves and to others.

Sometimes things change and people lose that sense of value. Take the case of a man who has worked hard all his career to support his family. He's proud of doing so. Then he retires and suddenly he has lost the activity that made him so proud. Can he find some other activity to fill that place? Perhaps, but it's not always easy.

It could be that his wife is doing just fine taking care of the things that need doing around the house. She doesn't need him to do what she's accustomed to doing. Perhaps he offers, but she declines, not wanting to burden him. This may make him feel even less useful.

Maybe he tries to pick up some of her work without asking. She may feel that he doesn't appreciate what she's been doing, or is silently criticizing the way she's been doing it. This eats at her sense of self-worth, and likely they both become grumpy with each other, starting a downward spiral in their relationship.

What could be done differently? The invisible issue in this situation, and many others, is that the participants don't feel valued by themselves or by other participants. Can you help them feel valued?

The first step is to identify what about them makes you grateful. What have they done that lifts your heart? Think of specific instances where their actions or presence has been meaningful to you. Think of ways you count on them routinely. Even small ways matter.

Then let them know about it. Express your gratitude. Offer them your appreciation for their actions.

Most of us were taught at an early age that we're supposed to say "thank you" when someone has done something for us or given us a gift. This training was likely done with the best of intentions, but it may have also had some unintended side-effects. It may have become a family rule for you, encouraging you to say "thank you" whether you meant it or not, in order to stay out of trouble. It may have devalued the phrase in your mind, perhaps making it meaningless, or perhaps, worse, offending you when someone doesn't say it to you when you think they should.

Saying "thank you" is still a good idea, but it may not carry the impact of heart-felt appreciation. There is both an art and a science to offering your appreciation to someone.

How to Say It Well

I hesitate to offer a template for fear that it may suffer the same devaluation over time. I think, though, that it can provide a good reminder of what's important in expressing appreciation. It has certainly helped me. You can always vary your expression from this template while keeping in mind the value it brings. Here is the form that I remember from what was taught to me:

"[Name of person], I appreciate you for [something they did or repeatedly do]."

Calling them by name adds emphasis to the expression. It feels significantly different from a simple "you" or a group appreciation. It's a spotlight on an individual unique person.

The specificity of their action(s) elevates the appreciation from a mundane ritual to an intentional tribute. It is also a great help to the recipient. If you tell me you liked my speech, it give me a short-lived happiness. If you tell me something specific you liked about it gives me information that can further my thoughts on the topic, promote conversation between us, and build our relationship.

You can go further by calling out the value of the action. Researchers have categorized this into two groups. The first group is the value that their action provided to you. For example, I might say "I appreciate what you said because it will help me the next time I find myself in such a situation." This has been labeled as "self-benefit" expression.

The second group is labeled "other-praising" and focuses on the value that they demonstrated with their action. "I appreciate what you said. It shows what a kind and helpful person you are." Whereas self-benefit appreciation is generally welcome, other-praising appreciation stokes the sense of self-worth of the person being appreciated. This makes a huge difference in the way the appreciation is received, and the effect it has on the relationship between the two people.

All of this is not to say that you have to think this deeply every time you want to thank someone. Sometimes a simple "thank you" is appropriate. Other times you may find a custom expression, different from what I offer here, fits better for you and the context you're in. But sometimes we fall into a habit of failing to share our appreciation with the person we appreciate, and thereby starve them of seeing the worth that we see in them.


By the way, that first step of identifying your gratitude has been shown to have positive benefits for you. Research has identified correlations between feeling gratitude and general well-being, as long as you retain your appreciation for yourself, also. Many people recommend keeping a gratitude journal to focus your attention on your gratitude, and help you notice how actions around you benefit you in life. By noticing what someone did that made you grateful, you both increase your own happiness and facilitate your ability to do so in the future.

Accepting Appreciation

One last note before I close--many people, myself included, sometimes struggle with accepting appreciation from others. We may have grown up with the idea that accepting praise is similar to bragging, which we shouldn't do. That's not true. Expressions of appreciation are a gift, and it would be impolite to refuse them. As I once learned in a drawing workshop, when someone offers you a compliment on what you've done, your next words should be "thank you." Accept the compliment or appreciation. Don't belittle what you did and point out the flaws in it. That's an indirect method of refusing the gift.

All of this takes thought and practice. There will be times when you neglect an opportunity, or express things in a way that doesn't work. This is the nature of life. Keep going, and generate more positivity in the world around you.

/signed/ George

P.S. I apologize for the length of this newsletter. I couldn't find a way to shorten it without leaving out something I felt was important to say. Thank you for reading this far. I hope that it touched something in you.

I appreciate those of you who have responded to previous newsletters this year. Everyone is busy, and you took the time to not only read what I had to say, but offer me your thoughts, too. For that I am grateful.

As usual, if you'd like to talk further about this topic, you could schedule a Zoom Session with me to talk about it.

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