Some leaders mistakenly believe communicating appreciation is all about “making people feel good.” Other managers or leaders attempt to use recognition and appreciation for the sole purpose of achieving secondary financial gains. When they do so, they are playing a risky game of manipulation, which can seriously undermine trust in work relationships.
But when authentic appreciation is communicated, all stakeholders win—the employee, the supervisor, the organization, customers and clients, as well as the family and friends of the employee who get to enjoy a more positive, encouraged individual. The “Return On Investment” from training team members at all levels of the organization on how to effectively show appreciation to one another is highly significant. It improves organizational functioning, decreases the loss of key team members, and creates a more positive workplace environment, providing a holistic Return on Investment for your company
Appreciation Language #1: Words of Affirmation
One way to express Words of Affirmation is to verbally praise the person for an achievement or accomplishment.
In the workplace, words are the most common form of appreciation. Since an organization exists to accomplish a mission, when an employee or volunteer makes a significant contribution toward that objective, it seems right to praise them for their work.
Effective verbal praise is specific . The more you can “catch” a staff person doing a task in the way you want and call attention to that specific task or behavior, the more likely that behavior is going to occur again. Behavioral research has proven the effectiveness of this principle time and time again. “I like the way you answered the phone in a cheerful tone and offered to help the customer resolve their concern” will probably encourage the receptionist to keep answering the phone cheerfully. Telling a teacher’s assistant, “Thanks for showing up early and making sure we were ready to go when the kids arrived,” is far more effective than “Thanks, you did a good job today.”
It is well documented that global praise does very little to encourage the recipient, and doesn’t increase the positive behaviors desired. Many people have reported to us that global comments actually can be demotivating. “I hate it when my boss says, ‘Good job, guys!’ He could say that to anyone. And to be honest, since my job is so technical, sometimes he wouldn’t know if I was doing a good job or not.” If praise is to be effective, it must be specific.
Making It Personal
- Have you received a verbal affirmation from a manager or colleague recently? If so, what did they say? How did you feel?
- Can you recall a time within the past few weeks when you verbally affirmed a coworker? If so, what did you say? How did they respond to your affirmation?
- What type of verbal affirmation impacts you the most? What types do you really not prefer?
- Think of someone who, if they did not do their work, would make your daily work life far more difficult. Specify what you value about what they do, and communicate to them how they make your life at work better.
Appreciation Language #2: Quality Time
We are not talking about simply being in physical proximity to another person. Many of us work closely with colleagues all day long, but at the end of the day will honestly say, “I did not have any quality time with any of my colleagues today.” How could anyone make that statement? Because a key element of Quality Time is not proximity, but personal attention.
Focused attention is one of the most important aspects of Quality Time. Many of us pride ourselves in the ability to multitask. While that may be an admirable trait, it does not communicate genuine interest in the other person when you are spending time with them. Most often, quality time involves giving someone your undivided attention. Don’t do other things while you are listening. Resist the urge to answer your phone. Don’t text while conversing with a colleague. If you are doing something that you cannot turn away from immediately, tell the individual who wants to talk, “I know you would like to speak with me and I want to give you my full attention. I can’t do that right now but if you will give me ten minutes to finish this task, I’ll sit down and be able to fully listen to you.” Most people respect such a request.
Another form of Quality Time is that of quality conversation : dialogue in which two individuals are sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context. Quality conversation is quite different from the appreciation language of Words of Affirmation. Affirming words focus on what we are saying, whereas quality conversation focuses more on what we are hearing. Quality conversation means that I am seeking to create a safe environment in which you can share your accomplishments, frustrations, and suggestions. I may ask questions, not in a badgering manner but with a genuine desire to understand your concerns.
Making It Personal
- On a scale of 0–10, how important is it for you to receive quality time with your supervisor? Your coworkers?
- What types of Quality Time do you enjoy? Does what you prefer depend upon whether it is with your supervisor or team members?
- What kinds of Quality Time are realistic in your work setting? Which ones don’t really fit your work environment?
- Have you ever experienced a difficult life event and a colleague or supervisor took time just to listen and be empathetic? What impact did that have on you?
- How (and when) is working together cooperatively on a project demonstrated at your workplace?
Appreciation Language #3: Acts of Service
Providing assistance to one’s colleagues is a powerful expression of appreciation, especially to the individual whose primary appreciation language is Acts of Service. Such acts of service will normally be viewed as beneficial. However, several strategies can make the process more effective:
Make sure your own responsibilities are covered before volunteering to help others. Some people are so interested in helping others that they tend to “leave their post” (to use a military concept) and not complete their own work. This is analogous to the high school student who wants to help others get their homework done but doesn’t get his own work completed.
In the work setting, most jobs are interrelated. When one job is left incomplete, the consequences are felt by many. Your otherwise well-intentioned effort to help a coworker may be viewed as shirking your responsibilities. On the other hand, one employee may complete his task before others. When she uses the time as an opportunity to help a coworker, rather than taking a personal break, the assistance will likely be viewed as a sincere act of service.
Ask before you help. It is always critical to ask first when considering helping a colleague. Even when you know an individual’s primary language of appreciation is Acts of Service, you need to check with them first to see if they would like assistance on the current task. If you dive in to help on a task when the coworker does not want help, it can create tension rather than encouragement.
Making It Personal
- How important to you are acts of service, on a scale of 1 to 10?
- What is an act of service someone could do that would help make your work go more smoothly?
- This coming week, look for colleagues who are working hard to complete a task with an upcoming deadline. Consider asking them, “What could I do that would help you in getting your task (or project) done on time?”
- When someone is helping you on a task, what is important to you about how they help you? What should they do (or not do)?
Appreciation Language #4: Tangible Gifts
There are two key components necessary for tangible rewards to be truly encouraging to those who receive them:
First, you need to give gifts primarily to those individuals who appreciate them . While a gift is extremely important to some individuals, it provides very little affirmation to others.
Research with over 100,000 employees found that Tangible Gifts is the least chosen language of appreciation through which individuals want to be shown appreciation. Only 6% of employees choose Tangible Gifts as their primary language, and 68% report it is their least valued appreciation language.
Why is this point especially important for Tangible Gifts? Because most employee recognition programs have a heavy emphasis on “rewards.” In fact, a major industry has grown up around giving gifts to employees as a way to reward them for longevity or demonstrating desired behaviors, to the tune of more than $1 billion worth of rewards given to employees annually. And yet, that isn’t really what makes most employees feel truly valued.
The second key component is: You must give a gift the person values. Two tickets to the ballet are not going to make some guys feel warm and fuzzy. The idea of sitting in the cold on a Sunday afternoon at a professional football game literally will leave many women cold just thinking about it. However, if you can match the concert tickets with an employee who enjoys music, you have expressed appreciation in a way they will long remember. The same is true of the football tickets. If you are a manager, you may be thinking, “This is too difficult. I don’t have time to figure out who wants what. Therefore, it is easier not to give gifts at all.” We understand the frustration, but just to give up will leave some employees feeling deeply unappreciated.
Making It Personal
- On a scale of 0–10, how important to you is receiving gifts?
- If you said 7 or above, what kind of gifts do you most appreciate?
- What gifts have you received from coworkers or your supervisor in the past year? Which ones really “hit the mark” for you?
- What gifts have you seen or experienced (sometimes given organizationally) that missed the target? Why do you think that was the case?
- What ideas do you have for new or different types of gifts that people in your workplace might enjoy?
Appreciation Language #5: Physical Touch
There is a role for appropriate touch in work-oriented relationships.
The touches that make you feel affirmed may not make another person feel affirmed. We must learn from the person whom we are touching what he or she perceives as an affirming touch. If you put your hand on the shoulder of a coworker and their body stiffens, you will know that for them your touch is not communicating appreciation. When someone withdraws from you physically, it often indicates that there is emotional distance between the two of you. In most business interactions, shaking hands is a way of communicating openness and social closeness.
When on rare occasions one individual refuses to shake hands with another, it communicates the message that things are not right in their relationship. On the other hand, when you put your hand on a colleague’s shoulder while verbalizing affirmation to them, and they respond, “Thanks, I really appreciate that,” you will know that both the verbal affirmation and the physical touch have been received in a positive way.
If you grew up in a “touchy-feely” family and touching comes naturally for you, you will likely carry that trait to work with you. It will be extremely important for you to determine whether the touches you typically give to others are received as affirming touches or if they are irritating to others.
The surest way to find out the appropriateness of physical touch is simply to inquire. You might say, “I grew up in a ‘touchy-feely’ family. I know that not everyone appreciates that. So if my giving you a high five irritates you, please let me know because I value our relationship.”
Making It Personal
- What types of physical touch in the workplace do you consider affirming?
- What kinds of touches make you feel uncomfortable?
- Among your colleagues, who are the “touchers”? What guidelines or boundaries do you think would be good to communicate to them regarding what is appropriate physical touch to you?
- Looking back over this past week, what types of physical touches did you give to others? How did they respond?
- Whom have you encountered who seemed to draw back from touching? Do you think it would be good to have a conversation with them clarifying what is / isn’t appropriate touch to them?