The Importance of Acknowledgement
And how it can improve your work and family life
Last month, I was watching the news on some city residents frustrated about not getting back their COVID test results. At first, I thought it was very common these days to have results backlogged. Because the labs were probably overwhelmed by the testing volume.
But then I learned that residents who tested positive were notified within 24 hours as planned. The complaint was mostly from residents who tested negative. And the root cause was not related to the labs’ capacities or testing volume whatsoever.
It was caused by one simple thing: Acknowledgment. More precisely, it was caused by the lack of acknowledgment.
In fact, the idea of acknowledgment is so common that sometimes we’d have done it without even noticing ourselves. For instance, a friend sends you a photo and you respond with a comment. Or your wife asking help from the kitchen, and you give her a quick “In a second” from the sitting room.
But problems can arise when we stop acknowledging others. Or we ourselves don’t get the acknowledgments as expected. And sometimes major problems can happen as a result in the workplace or even at home.
Let me explain why.
Back to the previous COVID testing story.
The city officials told the residents that they would receive an SMS message within 24 hours if they were tested positive. But in order to cut down the city’s unnecessary administration efforts, residents who tested negative would not get an SMS.
And the result was, people who tested negative were not sure if they were actually negative, or there was something wrong with their phones. So they all called the COVID testing hotline to confirm their test results.
The city officials ended up spending even more effort and resources to handle all the incoming hotline calls.
It was easy to see this was a failed policy from the start. For serious matters like COVID testing, people need the acknowledgment to feel safe and to move on with their daily lives.
But even for some casual scenarios, like eating out in a restaurant. Being able to acknowledge — or not — can make a big difference in the service level to the customers.
Imagine you are eating out in a popular restaurant. The place is always packed with customers. And all the staffs are always busy running around serving different tables.
This scenario appears in most restaurants except those really fine-dining places. With a price tag of $300 per person, they can afford to have a 1-to-1 staff-to-customer ratio.
But unless you are dining in one of these. You can’t imagine the waiter or waitress to be always available when you need help or simply placing your order.
So how does a good restaurant maintain its service level with a small group of staff?
The answer is: The staff are trained to acknowledge.
For instance, when I raise my hand to ask for help, the staff would always nod or make eye contact. Even when they are running around serving other tables.
This way, I know the staff would come to help when he or she had finished their current tasks. And I would wait patiently and carry on with my meal. Instead of waving my hand insanely to get anybody’s attention in a bad service restaurant.
Some great restaurants have trained even their non-waiting staff. For instance, even a cleaning lady would acknowledge customers and then find a waiter (or anyone appropriate) to take care of the requests.
In fact, the difficulty of getting acknowledgment doesn’t only happen in restaurants. It happens everywhere, sometimes even in our home dining room.
I am fortunate to have a close family and we have dinners together regularly each week.
I have one niece and two nephews aged from six to fourteen. At these ages, the kids are curious about almost anything. And they would fire off all kinds of questions during dinner. Faster than the rest of us (the adults) can handle.
Similar to a press conference with many reporters but a limited time. Only a few questions have the chance to get answers. So during dinner, we sometimes might tend to answer the questions from only the kid asking the most or the loudest.
But based on my own experience, I’ll certainly tell you — that’s a bad idea.
Not only we would encourage the kids to yell out their questions — which can turn the dinner into a shouting contest. But also we would miss out on the questions from the quieter kids. And when kids are used to not being answered, they would simply stop asking — which no parents or adults want to see.
What we’ve decided to do is, first acknowledge the kids we’ve heard all of the questions. And we’ll answer them one by one. Sometimes we might forget the remaining questions after answering a few. In that case, we would politely ask the kids to repeat their questions.
It might sound a bit difficult at first. But after a while, the kids know their questions will be answered. So they don’t have to keep shouting out questions to be heard.
Acknowledgment is an essential part of our communication with each other.
It might look trivial or even reductant in some cases. But without it, our communication breaks down, and worse, our relationships would be next.
So, it doesn’t matter what you do professionally or which role you play in your family. It is always important to acknowledge others — as we are often expecting the same thing from others.