The ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IMPACT – Empowering or Disconnecting

By Micki Lewis MS, PCC, CPLP

The Influence of Acknowledging and the Power of NOT Acknowledging

We can all easily think of a difficult situation at work, something possibly mishandled, handled inappropriately, unethically or unfairly.  We can also likely quickly recall what DIDN’T happen after the incident in regards to how this situation was handled by our leaders.

Loud and clear…We needed some type of acknowledgement and communication of what just happened in order to get a sense and clarity to put our arms around what just happened and what the impact was to us, our colleagues and our company.

But …..Crickets.  Nothing was said, nothing acknowledged.

We didn’t hear a word, not a peep, didn’t even see a glimpse of our leaders after it happened.  It seemed like our leaders were hiding.  Maybe they thought it was no big deal and didn’t need to be addressed.  We KNOW something did happen, we weren’t blind to it…it was NOT acknowledged, good bad or ugly, no info.

To us – acknowledging the situation was the “right” thing to do and was truly necessary to be addressed or at least talked about.

In our own minds, we needed our leaders to step up and acknowledge whatever it was that just happened, then to put us at ease and assure us that everything will be looked into and the leaders are doing all we can to understand the situation.   (Or something like this.)

A follow up from the leaders at that point would be the best approach: what we can learn from it and what our next steps are to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and how the company will continue to be strong, ensure xyz will happen, etc. is what we as employees were looking for.

Nothin’, nadda… nope – not a word.

So, what happens to teams or companies when situations don’t get addressed or acknowledged, when communication is poor, or when there is no follow up?    Situations like these can shake us to the bone. It can shake our foundation especially our foundation of trust.   Anxiety and worry creep into our minds.  If we go back to Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs, besides the first need of food and shelter, we all desire security and stability and belonging as our cornerstones of living and working well.

We didn’t get it!

We lean on our leaders to be the better person, the person who knows better, the one who as a leader is brave enough to say what needs to be said, even if they just say something.  Serious to the wellbeing of a team, acknowledging is paramount to stability.


The Ripple Effect

What happens in the organization after the incident or situation can make or break a team or organization.  For example:

  • If something happened to a colleague that was unfair, you may experience your own trust being impaired from the incident. You wonder if you want to stay in this type of environment.  You say to yourself, if this happened to my peer, might it also happen to me?
  • You begin to see a wave of others either leaving, being disengaged and/or not really caring about the company and the team. There is more and more talk about finding work at other firms.  We know the grass isn’t always greener across the road, though, when there is confusion or turmoil people don’t have a path and will want to see what else is out there.
  • They may not be so productive anymore either. They don’t make plans, they are more apt to wait and see before putting in more hours or effort on projects.
  • They are waiting for the acknowledgement of what happened to the situation and waiting for the leaders to step forward, acknowledge it, telling we are going to be okay, we are all on track and moving forward and give us a picture – that vision of the future, where we are headed.


What can we do?

As individuals, acknowledging this happened and identifying how we might have wanted to handle it in our own minds is important.  Spending time on your own awareness, being reflective and acknowledging the situation speaks volumes of an effective leader whether you have direct reports or not.  Believe it or not – you have influence.

Gossiping isn’t the answer.  Take it upon yourself to meet with your manager and recommend your team have some type of discussion around the topic.  Identify what role you had played (if any) and will play, and how you and your team will move forward from this.

If you are the leader where nothing was said in this situation, look at yourself and WHO you want to be as a leader in this organization.  Ask yourself these difficult questions:

  • How would your team rate your response to this situation?
  • Do things get swept under the rug all too often?
  • How are you empowering your team?
  • How might you change yourself in not letting this happen again?
  • What would you do differently? How might you?  Would you?
  • Are you brave enough to approach your colleague, with whomever this happened? What would you say?
  • Would you just leave it to HR to handle?
  • Or would you DO NOTHING and just go on like it didn’t happen?


Trust is a basic need we all need and our teams seek from each other (5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni).  Building trust is key to higher performance.   Acknowledging this situation, even if uncomfortable, will build trust.  Our goal as leaders is to empower and develop our people.  What are you doing to continue on that focus? 


Contact us here – For more on building trust, acknowledging situations and working to empower your team, schedule a consult with Micki to discuss.