How to Communicate and Recognize Appreciation

Photo by jen collins

Photo by jen collins

Cherie and I presented at the UT Dallas Project Management Symposium this week, and it was a lot of fun.  We once again presented Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach and also had the opportunity to do a second session on Motivating People Through the Language of Appreciation.  It was our first time presenting that topic, and the positive feedback was tremendous.  Then again, when you're talking to people for an hour about appreciation, they know how to practice it when you're done.  ;-)

Honestly though, feeling appreciated is rare for many people--70% of employees say they receive no praise at work.  That hurts the individuals and the organization.  People who are undervalued are less likely to go above and beyond at work and they are more likely to leave for another job.  Here's the real kicker: your organization might be trying to show some appreciation for employees, but they are not recognizing it!

Each one of us has certain things that we look for that tell us we are valued by others--different reference points that tell us, “I value and appreciate you.”  When people speak to us in the way that speaks value and appreciation to them--and it is different than they way we say it--we don’t receive the message.  Why?  Because we don’t recognize that they are saying it.  For example, a manager might give an employee a gift card in recognition of his hard work and long hours in completing a project successfully, but the employee sees it as an empty gesture because he would really like someone to tell him how valuable he is to the organization.

We speak different languages of appreciation, and understanding the different languages of appreciation helps others to receive what you are trying to offer them.  If we can understand the language we are expecting to hear and how others might possibly be expressing appreciation and value, then we can both send and perceive the appropriate messages.

The 5 languages of appreciation are:

1.     Quality Time – Quality time includes focused attention and quality conversation.  A person who speaks this language feels valued when they perceive that someone displays a genuine interest in them.  This language focuses on hearing the person receiving the quality time and about participating in the conversation with them.  Quality time also includes a sharing of life together.  So, working side by side or going to lunch together also qualifies as quality time.  

2.     Words of Affirmation – Words of affirmation include specific words of encouragement or praise for accomplishment and for effort.  It includes saying, “thank you.”  Words of affirmation can be given one on one, in front of someone the person views as important (such as a supervisor or the team), or publicly.  This appreciation language focuses on the words being said to the person receiving the words of affirmation, and it is about them and their contributions or character traits that are valuable and appreciated. Can be written, verbal, or in some other format including music, video, etc.  The important thing is the message of praise and encouragement communicated.

3.     Receiving Gifts – Receiving gifts is the vehicle for some individuals that sends the message that says, “You are valuable to me and I thought about you when you weren’t with me because I appreciate you.”  The dollar value of the gift is not what is significant but the emotional thought about the person that drove the gift to be given.  For people who speak this language, the gift becomes tangible evidence that they are valued.  It is a constant reminder that they are appreciated.   

4.     Acts of Service – Acts of service is characterized by helping with tasks that need to be completed.  Some might call this teamwork.  Some key things to remember with acts of service are:

  • Get your own work finished before offering to help someone with theirs
  • Ask before helping
  • Make sure to do it their way if you are going to help
  • Finish what you commit to do and make it clear what you can commit to finish

5.     Physical Contact – Physical contact in the workplace is a touchy subject. (Pardon the pun) The truth is that for some people this is the language that speaks the loudest to them that they are truly valued and appreciated.  The key is to understand what is appropriate and acceptable and to adhere to those guidelines.  Depending on the culture of the organization there will be different guidelines but for most handshakes, knuckle bumps, high-fives, or even a pat on the shoulder are acceptable.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.