Five years ago, an international consultant, specializing in employee involvement and team development, published a story relating to workplace communication that is heartwarming and damning at the same time.

In 1981, Peter Grazer was working as the project engineer on a construction project to modernize a silicon manufacturing facility in St. Louis, Missouri. A crew of ironworkers had been assigned a particularly daunting task of erecting some structural steel in a difficult to reach area of the plant.

Unfazed by the complexity of the assignment, the ironworkers completed the work weeks ahead of schedule, well under budget, and without safety problems.

Grazer and his colleagues of the management team resolved to express their appreciation to the crew in an unmistakable,tangible way. They sent letters to the homes of the workers, thanking them for their outstanding work and inviting them and their wives to a dinner in their honor at a fancy hotel in St.Louis.

The dinner was a memorable occasion, enjoyed to the full by both management and the workers in a spirit of camaraderie. A couple of days later, Grazer was walking around the site when he came upon one of the crew members.

Jerry was in his fifties and was usually loud and jovial. Moreover, he was naturally hardened from his years of working with steel, and not the type to get unduly emotional over anything.

The project engineer was a little taken aback to see Jerry so quiet and deep in thought on this particular morning, especially so soon after the dinner. He anxiously asked Jerry if anything was wrong.

"You remember those letters you sent to our homes?" he asked. "When I arrived home that day my wife was waiting for me at the door - with the letter in her hands and tears in her eyes. And she said to me: 'Jerry, you've been an ironworker for thirty years, and nobody's ever thanked you for anything.' "

Jerry paused, and both he and the project engineer stood there quietly for a moment. "How is it possible," thought Grazer, "that somebody could work for thirty years and not be thanked for anything he did?"

"I didn't know at the time," reports Grazer, "that this would be the first of what would become more than 200 incidents like it during the next five years...I wondered for years why so many recipients would experience any emotional response (such as tears) when receiving some recognition. What I came to understand was that they were finally breaking through a barrier (need fulfillment) that they had spent years striving for. Someone had finally thanked them for their good work."

Dr. Roger Firestien, a noted expert on creative problem solving techniques, quotes this article of Peter Grazer's in his book "Leading on the Creative Edge."

The need for recognition is clearly one of our most sophisticated needs and one of the most difficult to achieve. The problem is that we are wholly dependent upon others for its satisfaction.

>From a purely pragmatic standpoint, lack of recognition can have a profoundly negative impact on productivity. Studies show that encouragement and recognition play a major role in stimulating creativity in research and development organizations. In a magazine article a few years back, writer Arthur Gordon gave an almost frightening example of how far this can go.

At the University of Wisconsin, a group of budding writers, said to be brilliant boys with real literary talent among them, once formed a club to discuss their literary efforts.

At each meeting, one of them would read something he had written and submit it to the criticism of the others.No one pulled any punches here; in fact, the critiques were so brutal that the club members dubbed themselves "The Stranglers".

Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, a group of women had also come together for the same purpose. The women called their little group "The Wranglers." They also took turns to read their manuscripts aloud.

But here the similarity between the two groups ended, for the Wranglers would go out of their way to say kind things about each other. Far from sowing the seeds of self-doubt, they actively supported each other, and encouraged all literary efforts, however feeble.

And the payoff came about twenty years later. Gordon asserts that for all the sparkling talent residing in the Stranglers at the time, not one member of the band achieved any kind of literary reputation. From the Wranglers, on the other hand, emerged a bevy of highly successful writers, led by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings who wrote "The Yearling."

Dr. Firestien adds that his experience in business suggests that most organizations more closely follow the Stranglers' pattern than the Wranglers'. "Why do we naturally gravitate towards the negative?" he asks, and then answers his own question: "I think the primary reason may be that we haven't been taught to look first at the strengths of an idea."

As if to prove his premise, Firestien shows participants in his seminars a picture of an odd-looking wheelbarrow with a very large hopper, a short handle, and a single wheel behind the hopper. He then calls for comments on its design.

Typical comments include: "The hopper is too big", "The handle is too short", "The wheel's in the wrong place", or "Go back to the drawing board, Roger!" Of course, all these "comments" are criticisms.

In real life, he then explains, this wheelbarrow is used for high-rise construction, and there's an important reason for each design element.

"Ah, but you set us up!" is the standard,indignant response. "You didn't give us all the information on it."

To which the presenter politely replies by pointing out that most new ideas look like that when they're first proposed.Often, you don't have all the info on a new idea on hand when you first see it.

But why jump the gun by killing it on the spot? Firestien contends that this is, in fact, the knee-jerk reaction of many people to all new ideas.

What's the solution?

Let's say someone proposes an idea. (That "someone" could be another party: your boss, your subordinate, your colleague,friend or spouse; but it could also be YOU - your inner,creative, "real" self!) If you're at all "normal", your natural urge will be to tear the concept to pieces.

But stop! Don't let your passions get the better of you! If Dr.Firestien had redrawn his wheelbarrow to fit in with all thecomments he received, he would have come back to the same wheelbarrow that has been in use for thousands of years.

Defer your judgment, just for a while. Has the idea no strengths at all? Focus on these first, and the drawbacks afterwards.

The fruits of your efforts may surprise you.

Author's Bio: 

Azriel Winnett publishes "Effective Communication", a powerful and provocative free ezine that focuses on human communication in all its aspects. Look at past issues at To subscribe , sign up at the site or send email to: with "subscribe" in the body of the email