The Judge, the Jury and Something Unexpected

feeling_recognized_mug“I never want to do this again.” “I’m so stressed.” “I haven’t been sleeping.” “Next time, I will make sure I don’t get chosen.”

Two men from Ghana were on trial for dealing drugs, and we were the jury. And after three days of listening to witnesses’ testimony and four more in deliberation — cooped up in a room every day for 7½ hours with 11 strangers – we were feeling pretty resentful about the demands of this civic obligation.

But when we (finally) filed into the jury box and announced our verdict, Judge Colleen McMahon turned to us and said: “You are one of my favorite juries. You asked to see every piece of evidence, you took your time in deliberating. It is clear and obvious to me that you have done everything you could to make the most equitable decision possible.”

She then proceeded to tell us about the venerable Judge Edward Weinfeld who was known for his persuasive opinions and widely revered by “us scared lawyers appearing in his court.”

“But there is one point in which I differ with Judge Weinfeld. He always made a point of not thanking the jury, saying, it is your civic duty and therefore I will not offer my thanks.”

“I, however,” said Judge McMahon, “would like to express my deepest appreciation. You have all taken time out of your busy lives to sit and listen to a case in which you have no interest other than to see that justice is served, and I thank you for that.”

When she excused us, she said, “If you have to go, by all means do. But if you can wait a few minutes, I would like to come back and thank each of you in person.”

Such a simple act of acknowledgement – it took less than two minutes and didn’t cost any taxpayer money.

And yet, back in the jury room, there was a palpable change in our mood as we basked in this unexpected recognition. All 12 of us, earlier so anxious to escape this tortuous experience, now waited patiently for the judge, who came back in street clothes, sat down and chatted with us and then shook each of our hands.

Sure, we’re good about thanking people when they go above and beyond what’s expected. But why should we acknowledge someone, we’re liable to think, for doing what they’re supposed to?

In this world of incessant selfies and information overload, people are hungry to be noticed. As Oprah said, when she was awarded the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002: “The greatest pain in life is to be invisible.”

So when we tell someone that they matter, that their being on the planet, in fact, does make a difference, the effect is often disproportionate. It boosts morale, which improves engagement which improves productivity. (A Gallup poll finds that: “The number-one reason most Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated.)

If we look, there are always opportunities to notice:

– The colleague who tries to skip the meeting and then shows up — why not recognize his effort and the specific expertise he brings to the discussion?

– The team member who backs you up in the conference call – why not acknowledge their support?

– The spouse who comes home on time — why not thank her for making the effort?

– The cashier at Trader Joe’s – why not tell her what a great job she did of getting your groceries into one bag?

And while you’re at it, why not acknowledge yourself for your efforts?