Saturday, September 29, 2012

Appreciation? Yes. Appreciation circles? No thank you.


Have you ever been publicly appreciated? Have you ever had to sit in a circle with a bunch of other people and do a ‘go around’ where each person is pinned down, and has to endure ‘touchy feely’ comments describing the myriad ways that they appreciate you? Did you have to offer appreciation in turn-obligated and put on the spot while doing your best to appear gracious and sincere?

That’s what happened to me at a working retreat I was on. Stunned by this unexpected ‘team building exercise,’ I refused to participate directly- saying only that I appreciated the entire group as ‘salt of the earth’ and for their dedication to the work they do.

I do not like feeling forced to do things- it’s the rebel in me to blame. To my mind, there is a time and place for offering appreciation. Just like I drag my heels and feel resentment when the pressure to join in to say, Christmas spirit, so too do I drag my feet when such situations are imposed on me. I don’t like it and being stubborn, I won’t oblige-or I’ll do it my way.

There’s something wrong with this picture for the following reasons:

  • When we are all forced to ‘appreciate’ the other, it is not authentic. Appreciation can be offered in ways that are less obvious. One person told me afterwards that she felt uncomfortable, paralyzed about what people would say about her, worried that they wouldn’t say anything nice. She felt like it was like a popularity contest and was disappointed because she only got four comments. “Why didn’t you say something about me?’” she said, but there was a hidden grievance.
  • I think the whole exercise ends up messing with people’s insecurities- and we are adults. I can only imagine what that would stir up in kids. So to me, this ‘appreciation circle’ is akin to praising- they are in the same category and both suck.  Just as we are told that praising kids is harmful to them because what we are doing is actually judging them, so too is the appreciation circle business where after the ‘appreciation’ people are left pondering why they said such and such and not so and so: “Oh, they didn’t say anything about my leadership skills. Does that mean they think I’m not a leader?”

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate,” said Thoreau.

Contrived situations like the ‘appreciation circle’ tend to suggest and even impose on the person being appreciated,  how others view that person, subtly shaping the way we view ourselves.  In the end, what I think about myself is more significant than what others think about me. So please, no praise, no appreciation circles around me!

I am curious to  hear from others about their thoughts on the topic. Do you find merit in the exercise? Do you use it?

2 comments:

Idzie D said...

My only experience with appreciation circles is at the unschooling camp for teenagers, Not Back to School Camp. And honestly, my experiences there have been really positive! There's always been an option to not be the person in the circle, and at least to me, it's never felt like there's much pressure involved. But then again, that camp always felt like a very safe environment, which makes a HUGE difference. Most other places, if this type of exercise was happening, I really would not feel comfortable with it. *Shrugs*

rfs said...

Options are good- to choose to participate or not in this sort of interaction would be a respectful approach.

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