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How to Facilitate an Appreciation Circle

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Clear the way for an appreciation circle

u shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you really mean it. Then you should say it a lot. People forget that. ~ Jessica, Age 8

Studies have found that practicing appreciation can improve relationships and motivate employees. It can also increase wellness and lessen stress. In short, regular appreciation will not only boost performance and engagement but also improve an employee’s health and well-being.

There are certainly many ways to show appreciation. One of my favorites to use with a work group is to facilitate an appreciation circle.

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Participating in an appreciation circle can be uncomfortable for some at first, but I have found that once the ice is broken and the circle gets going everyone relaxes and becomes engaged and enthusiastic. They learn quickly that is feels pretty good both to give and to receive positive feedback.

Set the Tone

As the facilitator, you set the tone and give examples of how to start ("what I appreciate about you is...) and use examples that aren't elaborate at first ("I appreciate your style - I love your shoes"). As the group gets more comfortable with the exercise, they will get deeper (or not - and that's okay too). Use good eye contact. The point is to demonstrate genuine and thoughtful appreciation. Help participants receive feedback by simply saying "thank you" and resisting the urge to give appreciation right back (they need to wait for their turn) or discounting the feedback ("Oh, these old things?).

Circle Options

There are several ways to facilitate an appreciation circle. Always start by getting your group in a circle and choosing a way to pick someone to start. Then try one of these exercises:

  1. Team Appreciation

    The first person expresses in three words what they appreciate about the team. Go around the circle - it's okay if people use the same word to describe the team. Have someone write the words down and then discuss as a group why they choose those words. I've also taken the words and made a Wordle. It can be the start of a vision or value statement, or just a cool way to capture the results.

  2. Popcorn Appreciation

    Use a small ball or bean bag and toss to a participant. That person shares one thing they appreciate about someone. They then toss the ball to someone else that hasn't yet received the ball and they say something they appreciate about someone until everyone has had the ball come to them at least once.

  3. Individual Appreciation

    You can start this one: look the person next to you in the eye, smile, address them by name, and share one thing you appreciate about that person ("Betty, I appreciate....). The next person in the circle, shares something different or elaborates on something they appreciate about that same person. Continue around the circle until everyone has commented on that person. Then go to the next person in the circle and do this exercise until everyone has received an appreciation comment from each person.

You'll find this appreciation exercise will give a huge morale boost to a team. It fosters trust, teaches positive feedback, and motivates participants to practice the appreciation habit outside of the group more often.

For assistance in talking through your first appreciation circle, contact me.


Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

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