The Power of Being Recognized

Have you ever been at an event and someone came up to you that you knew from high school, college, or even a previous job and asked if you are the person he or she thinks you are?  If the person remembered correctly, it is a really good feeling to be recognized.  In in the most basic sense, it confirms that you made an impression on others in your past and they are worthy of recognition.   As we get older, it becomes harder to remember names and faces from our past, but there is nothing that makes someone happier than acknowledging that he or she was memorable.

Recognition of faces is a very fundamental part of being human.  Babies by four months of age recognize faces as being unique.  Given the importance of non-verbal communication, it is no wonder that faces are credited with being the “mirrors of the soul.”  A few seconds of visual communication provide us with a person’s identity, race, gender, mood, and trustworthiness.

You may recall the scene in the Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s character (Miranda) is attending her fashion gala and she has her assistants memorize the name of each attendee from a book of faces.  As people approach through the entrance, one of the assistants whispers the name of the attendees so she can greet them by name.   The short scene shows several attendees beam as this important fashion editor not only invited them to her party, but remembered their name by their face.

As employees and managers encounter colleagues and coworkers, recognition is important.  I did some work with a Human Resource Director that took knowing names very seriously.  She served in 1,000 employee organization and made it part of her job to know each person by name and something meaningful about them.  No matter where we walked in the multiple facilities that the organization owned, she would greet the person we walked past by name and ask about a child, pet, or hobby.   Each time the person’s face would light up that she recognized them and they seemed to move it a little more determination as the person continued down the hall.

Recognition in the simplest sense is identification of something known or acknowledgement.  It is good practice for a senior leader as a junior associate to practice recognition.  Three practices will reassure people that they are important to you:

  • Retain names
  • Remember a few details
  • Acknowledge the positive

Retain Names

Dale Carnegie summed it well when he said: “Nothing is sweeter than the sound of a person’s own name.” The simple statement of a person’s name creates a connection, facilitates communication, and puts a person at ease.  You call a friend by name and by using a person’s name establishes a more friendly linkage with the person.  Different people use different methods to remember names and it is best to find what works for you.

Remember a Few Details

Outside of a person’s name, a few details of what is important to them are the next best thing.    People love to talk about themselves and their interests.   Even if you only remember a few minor things about a person, it creates a stronger connection when you remember to ask about those things.  A great example that I use when working with groups is related to seeing the doctor or dentist.  Most of us have anxiety when we go to either and the best medical professionals spend  a few seconds asking about kids, pets, or holiday plans before getting started.  These few seconds ease most of us before the examination begins.

Acknowledge the Positive

Most employees feel under-recognized by their supervisors as well as the organization.  The last piece of recognizing a person should include adding something positive to the exchange.  If you have heard the person is doing a good job, say so when you see them.  If they finished a big project, work in an area exceeding expectations, or seem to be a “go to person” in the organization, mention it to the person. In those cases when you are not aware of any work-related accomplishments, acknowledge the simple things: nice outfit or that it is good to have the person as part of the team.

A few simple words can make all the difference to a person’s morale and commitment to the organization.  Job satisfaction and engagement have strong personal elements and recognizing someone goes a long way.