Over a half-century ago the great psychologist Carl Rogers
taught his graduate students the technique that became known as
"active listening," the method of reflecting back to the client the
essence of what she had said.
The type of psychology Rogers
espoused became known as "client-centered therapy," largely
a matter of careful, empathic listening to people and validating
them by accurately reflecting their comments. This technique
is but one kind of acknowledgement.
What Is meant by acknowledgement?
Princeton University's online dictionary contains various meanings
of "to acknowledge." This is the principal meaning I intend for
the conversation skill:
To express recognition of the presence or existence of, or acquaintance
with; "He never acknowledges his colleagues when they run into him
in the hallway"; "She acknowledged his compliment with a smile";
"It is important to acknowledge the work of others in your preface."
In the broadest sense of this meaning, it includes to take notice of,
to "grant being to another", to validate another's existence, behavior,
Sometimes this is done with simple eye contact or
a nod; or perhaps with an "uh-huh." Sometimes it is done with
a careful verbal response, a summary or paraphrase of what a listener
heard. In situations like Native American council, acknowledgement
needs to be shown only by showing rapt attention when listening to
the comments of other speakers.
Behaviors are reciprocated
One of the powerful results of acknowledging others is that doing
so tends to evoke similar behavior. In short, "You're paying close
attention to me? OK, I'll also pay close attention to you."
marriage counselors and some mediators require that the contending
parties repeat what they hear before responding with their own comments.
Why? Because the parties in dispute typically are not listening carefully
but are merely reacting to their distorted interpretations of what was said.
Examples of acknowledgement
A few everyday examples to make acknowledgement even clearer:
Billy (14) receives a nice birthday gift from his Aunt Sally, one
carefully selected for his interests. Billy does not send a thank you note
to Aunt Sally, who had spent much time and money to please Billy.
Her feelings are hurt, and she wonders how her sister has raised Billy.
The following year she sends him a plain birthday card.
Ten committee members are meeting for the first time, and
the convener suggests they all introduce themselves by name,
organization, and background. Going clockwise, they begin, with Abe
telling everyone he is from First Security Bank. However, the other nine
members pay little attention because they are thinking of what they're
going to say during their turn. After 15 minutes, very few can remember
anyone's name or background.
Conversations may not be oral
Sometimes oral conversations are continued with postal or email
correspondence, and I observe that many of these messages go
For example, Susan and James are talking after
his presentation, and she asks him to send he a report he cited. He
agrees and, when returning to his office, digs out and copies the
report, encloses it with a note, and mails it off to Susan.
he receives no response of any kind that she'd received his report,
which was actually a continuation of their conversation.
(Perhaps that is why anthropologist Gregory Bateson once
remarked to me that "you can send an angry response to a
promised letter you never received." The communication loop
had not been completed.)
Confirming receipt of an asked-for response is even more
important when you continue the conversation electronically.
Did your message accidentally get deleted? Was it filtered?
Or has it been simply overlooked? Who knows? In any case,
because it was solicited and not spam, it deserves an
acknowledgement. Until this occurs, the communication
Pay-offs for acknowledging others
When you install acknowledgement as a reliable move
in your conversation repertoire, your communication will
benefit in many ways: You"ll have better relations with
others, more communication accuracy, and more prosperity,
And, on your next birthday, unlike Billy, you'll
probably get a nice gift instead of an ordinary card.
Loren Ekroth © 2005
Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His articles and programs strengthen critical communication skills for business and professional people. Contact him at Loren@conversation-matters.com. Check resources and archived articles at http://www.conversation-matters.com.