The AAA Approach To Getting the Best Work Out of People

If you are a manager or leader, it’s no doubt obvious to you that your ability to elicit the best from others plays a major role in your ability to deliver results.

If your team resists your feedback, your ideas, and your direction, you will get a small fraction of what they are capable of — both in terms of quality and quantity of work. Also, your ability to engage your peers and your manager productively plays a huge role in your success.

Even if you are not a manager, your ability to engage people in productive conversations, get buy-in for your ideas, and foster productive relationships will not only affect your current job performance, it will profoundly influence the trajectory of your career path.

A 3 step approach for bringing out the best

That’s why I want to identify the AAA approach to bringing out the best in others and helping them do their best work:

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  1. Ask
  2. Acknowledge
  3. Appreciate

These three simple, yet powerful, communication practices will bring you better results from other people, and, move you much farther in your career than will old school command and control or sell and yell approaches to influencing others.

1. Ask

  • Make it an ongoing practice to ask others for their perspectives, ideas, and unique ways of doing things. This not only helps you continue to grow, it shows you care about and are interested in what that person has to say, a message that most people don’t get nearly enough in their lives.
  • When coaching someone, look for opportunities to ask questions, rather than give advice. Rather than say “Here’s how I would have done it” or worse “Here’s what you should have done,” ask “If you had to do it over again, how might you have done it differently?” Fight the ego-satisfying feeling of being the one with the answers and solutions and instead, exercise the discipline of helping others learn to access their own answers and inner wisdom.
  • When someone shares something that happened to them, show your interest by asking questions. This is one of the most powerful ways of showing you care about them and what they have to say.
  • When you don’t think an idea that was just offered is a sound one, instead of immediately saying why it won’t work, ask for more information. Ask to hear more about their rationale.

2. Acknowledge

  • When someone shares an idea in a meeting, acknowledge it rather than quickly going on to your idea or your point of view. Don’t leave them with the feeling of, “What I just said didn’t matter. It didn’t even register.
  • Acknowledge other’s contributions in meetings or over time by referencing them later. For instance: “I was thinking of what you said Ashley at last week’s meeting about X, and it made me think that maybe it would be good for us to…
  • When someone shares something that happened to them — especially if it was clearly meaningful or difficult — acknowledge that you heard and that you understand what they said and/or the significance to them. It can be as simple as saying “Wow…that sounds pretty intense” or “I can imagine that felt pretty good…” Then, use the first A of the AAA. Ask them a question to encourage them to share more.
  • Show you “see” others by acknowledging their individual preferences, interests, strengths, and quirks. People hunger to be “seen” and to feel like others “get” them. This shows them you do.
  • When someone goes above and beyond to get the job done or goes out of their way to be helpful, let them know you noticed.

3. Appreciate

  • When someone goes above and beyond to get the job done or goes out of their way to be helpful, let them know you appreciate them doing that. When appropriate, share why what they did is so meaningful and the difference it made.
  • When someone sends you something that’s helpful, or they hoped would be helpful, let them know you appreciate their thoughtfulness. Don’t leave them wondering if A) you ever received what they sent, or B) you take their thoughtfulness for granted. Fewer things dampen someone’s interest in another person — and their motivation to help them —  than being taken for granted.
  • Look for opportunities to express appreciation for other’s contributions, role-modeling of desirable behaviors, hard work, being easy to work with, and anything else that they do that you find helpful or commendable.
  • Practice being more mindful of situations where you could say “Thank you.” Not only will this simple courtesy make you stand out from all the others who don’t bother to do this, it is also a way for you to “be the change” and model a more thoughtful, considerate way of receiving the thoughtfulness and good deeds of others.


David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," and Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker, volume one of the Courageous Conversations at Work series, as well over 100 articles and book chapters.

You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at