The Language of Appreciation in the Workplace

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I’m a consultant.  Working with one of my current clients as an enterprise agile coach I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact that appreciation has on an organization’s success.  As an enterprise coach I am responsible for, on average, 40 teams.  (Read my last post on “Scaling the Agile Coach” to find out how I’ve been able to successfully scale this role to be able to coach this many teams.)

If you read Gary Chapman’s work on the Language of Appreciation (The Love Languages, as he calls it in several of his books), you will find that he identifies that all humans both speak and perceive appreciation in one or more specific languages of appreciation.  The primary (and sometimes secondary) language a person expects to have appreciation conveyed to them will determine what makes them feel valued and motivated.  Appreciation spoken to them in the wrong language may go unperceived and leave individuals feeling undervalued or unappreciated which will lead to low job satisfaction and low morale.

People will use their primary and often secondary appreciation language to encourage and motivate others but will also speak this language to show commitment (or how they are adding value) to a team or organization.  Understanding the differences that motivate people can help us all to identify how to create an atmosphere of creative appreciation that allows us to live the agile principle of building projects around motivated people, giving them the support they need, and trusting them to get the job done.

The five languages of appreciation as identified by Chapman are:

  1. 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.
  2. Quality Time – Quality time includes focused attention and quality conversation.  A person who speaks this language feels valued when someone shows 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.  In an agile environment things like pair programming and working together collaboratively in team room are great examples of quality time.
  3. 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: 1) Get your own work finished before offering to help someone with theirs, 2) Ask before helping, 3) Make sure to do it their way if you are going to help, 4) Finish what you commit to do and make it clear what you can commit to finish.
  4. 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.
  5. Physical Touch – Physical touch in the workplace is a touchy subject. (pardon the pun) But, 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.

Read my next post, “Appreciation in the Workplace – The Language of Value” for a story of the appreciation languages in action.

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