Harold, Marty, and Jodie were each head of engineering at different startups. They had been randomly sorted together for the first breakout session of the leadership seminar they were attending. Their task for the next fifteen minutes was to develop a list of exercises the larger group could use to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to the rest of the seminar.
“No pressure, right?” Marty said ruefully. “It’s not like the seminar’s success now depends on us or anything.”
“It’s just like our first day at a new company,” Jodie added. “Everyone’s looking at us for brilliance, yet we know next to nothing about any of the people involved.”
“I always find my best strategy for the first thirty days or so is to listen,” Harold contributed. “What if we find ways to help everyone listen to each other?”
Marty and Jodie nodded in agreement.
“Harold, I appreciate you for suggesting that,” Jodie said. “I was feeling anxious about devising simple, short exercises to take back to the group. Now, however, I know how to start.”
1) Show your appreciation
Harold rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “That’s great,” he exclaimed. “I was feeling the same. I appreciate you telling me how I helped you move forward. So, what’s your idea?”
Jodie smiled and said, “I just modeled it.”
Marty rubbed their head in confusion. “Wait, what?”
“My idea is Appreciations,” Jodie explained. “Describe the impact you experienced from someone else’s actions. Use the form, ‘Name, I appreciate you for the specific concrete impact I experienced.’”
“Well, that’s straightforward,” Marty said. “I get it. It’s kind of like the kudos my teams sometimes give out in product launch emails. Those always seem anemic, though. “Kudos to the XYZ feature team for making this amazing thing available to our customers.”
“That points out three common mistakes when getting started with Appreciations,” Jodie said. “One is omitting the specific concrete impact I experienced. Appreciations are much more impactful when focused on a specific action or encounter.”
“So, Marty’s example might change to, ‘Product team, I appreciate you for shipping the XYZ feature to our customers. In the last five days, I’ve received personal emails from several key customers detailing how it has saved them millions of dollars,’” Harold proposed.
“That’s moving in the right direction,” Jodie agreed. “To make it even more powerful, focus on a single person.”
Marty cocked their head and said, “So, something like this? ‘Gomez, I appreciate you for spending last week nailing down product requirements with 123 Corp. They specifically mentioned your painstaking work as the primary reason they’ve signed a five-year contract with us.’”
Jodie clapped her hands in celebration. “Yes, that’s perfect.”
Harold shook his head mournfully. “I can never introduce this to my team. Every person is going to appreciate every person on their team. Meetings will take hours.”
“That’s the third common mistake,” Jodie replied. “Appreciating more than just one or two people. When everybody is appreciated, it feels rote rather than rare.”
“So, I can appreciate Gomez and Morticia, but not also Wednesday and Pugsley?” Marty asked.
“Yes, exactly,” Jodie replied.
“This is great,” Harold said. “I’m happy that we now have something to take back to the group. And, I’m excited to share another exercise with you.”
2) Describe what’s up with you right now
“Fabulous,” Marty declared. “Let’s hear it.”
“You just did,” Harold replied with a grin. “I told you What’s Up With Me Right Now.”
“Your idea is to blurt out what you’re feeling?” Marty asked skeptically.
“Yes. Although with a bit more structure than blurting. At the start of every meeting, each person has 60 seconds to explain What’s Up With Them Right Now. Everyone else must only listen. No replies allowed.”
“Hey, that’s almost exactly what one of my engineering managers does,” Marty exclaimed. “Only, she calls it All The Feels, and each person has up to three minutes to say what’s on their mind.”
“I like both of these,” Jodie declared. “Three minutes a person seems too long to do every meeting, however.”
“Yes,” Marty agreed. “My engineering manager does it every sprint retrospective, not every meeting. And, apparently, rarely does someone use up their full three minutes.”
“I imagine,” Harold theorized, “that All The Feels wanders into deep emotional waters. What’s Up With Me Right Now, on the other hand, tends to be more ‘My kid just texted that their lunch account is out of money. I need to take care of that, and then I’ll be focused on this meeting.’”
“All The Feels can delve into deeper waters,” Marty affirmed. “It’s not automatic though. People do seem to cover broader territory, talking about both personal and work stuff. More personal than work, according to my engineering manager.”
“I wonder whether five or even ten minutes per person would work even better?” Jodie asked.
“I suspect people would stop paying attention,” Harold said.
“Both All The Feels and What’s Up With Me Right Now are about gentle sharing, not deep therapy,” Marty added. “I agree, however, it would be an interesting experiment.”
3) Share who you are
“We’re about out of time,” Jodie noticed. “And, we have three exercises to take back to the group.”
“One: Appreciations,” Marty said. “Use the form, ‘Name, I appreciate you for the specific concrete impact I experienced.’ Where the specific concrete impact of a single person is key. As is appreciating only one or at most two people.”
“Two and Three: All The Feels and What’s Up With Me Right Now,” Harold added. “Each person has a certain amount of time to speak whatever is on their mind. Three minutes or one minute, respectively. Everyone else listens without responding.”
“Our mission was to develop a few exercises we can easily teach the larger group, to help them feel comfortable bringing their entire selves to the rest of this seminar,” Jodie recalled. “All three of these encourage sharing who we are. So, I guess we’re done.”
“Just in time,” Harold said. “Looks like they’re calling us all back into one group.”
“Who wants to present?” Marty asked as the three joined the stream of people heading back to the central room.
Harold and Jodie looked at each other, then simultaneously pointed at Marty, saying, “You do.”
“OK,” Marty said with a chuckle. “I won’t even need notes.”