The Difference Between Flattery and Appreciation

 In Pei Blog

Just add one word — “because” — to make your appreciation of others meaningful.

Have you ever been told “great job,” but it felt like something was empty or missing?  Or somebody threw you a compliment, but it just didn’t feel completely sincere?

I’ve been thinking about what genuine appreciation looks like, and how it is different from flattery.  Here are 2 differences:

  • Genuine appreciation has no agenda or motive, other than to make sure a person understands our gratitude.

Flattery is more transactional… there is usually an ulterior motive.  “You are so awesome… now do something for me.”  Or, “great job… now we need you to up your game and get more results.”

When I was in college, there was this “Thank-A-Thon” program where we volunteered to call alumni, just to thank them for their faithful donations to the school.  Every single call went exactly the same:

Me: “Hello, I just wanted to thank you so much for your donation last year!”

Them: “Okay, sure…”

Me: “So, thank you!  Because of your donation, we were able to fund this-or-that program, etc.”

Them: “So… what do you need?”

Me: “Nothing!  Just wanted to thank you!”

Invariably, they just couldn’t believe that we weren’t asking them to give more money.  A couple of times, they even offered themselves to give a donation even though I wasn’t asking!  Instead of feeling like the call was a transaction, they actually felt appreciated.  They felt human.  And that made them want to give more.

  • Genuine appreciation always acknowledges the hard parts of a person’s reality.

Flattery tends to stay positive, and doesn’t delve into the realm of acknowledging the hard and challenging aspects of what a person has been through.  Appreciation “embraces the negative.”  I can’t overstate the importance of this.  Across the board, I’ve felt the most appreciated when people have made the effort to understand and appreciate my reality.  For instance:

“What you did wasn’t easy.  I appreciate it because you invested effort and energy at a time when things were challenging in your life.”

“It must have taken a lot of time to plan this.  I appreciate what you did, especially because of the resilience and perseverance it took to make this happen.”

Great leaders are able to even acknowledge hard realities that they may have created themselves:

“I know it wasn’t always easy working with me, and I said and did some things that weren’t helpful.  What you did was so special because you stayed true to your values despite a lot of criticism and complexity.”

Each of these statements aren’t afraid to embrace the negative.  Often in our work, we do things that require hard work and sacrifice, and it makes a big difference when people “get it.”  It honors us when they’re able to communicate, “I see you.  I see the cost and sacrifice in what you did.”  The goal of true appreciation is meet people’s needs to be seen and valued, not just to say the words “thank you.”

There is also one key word in each sentence above that adds invaluable meaning: “because.”  I like what you did, because… What you did must not have been easy, because

True appreciation explains why we’re grateful, not just that we’re grateful.

So the next time you appreciate someone, try these 2 things.  Just thank them, and don’t ask for anything else.  Acknowledge their hard reality… and always use the word “because.”  Make it your one and only goal that they understand your gratitude.

They will appreciate it.  : )


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