Use the 5 languages of appreciation to give your team a boost

We all want a pat on the back sometimes, right? Well, apparently not. It turns out there are 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People’  is a best-selling book, written by Gary Chapman and Paul White. It has sold over 450,000 copies and has been translated into 16 languages.

The reason for its popularity? Showing appreciation is an important part of your role as a manager. The research (and common sense) highlights the importance of appreciation in engaging and motivating employees.

What the book provides is a simple framework, the 5 languages, that helps ensure appreciation hits the mark and has the desired impact.

The importance of showing appreciation in the workplace

Intuitively, we understand the value of giving appreciation to others, because we value it ourselves when we receive appreciation. Though of course, most of us do not receive enough appreciation at work!

This PsychCentral article suggestions 5 reasons that appreciation has an impact:

  1. We’re being valued
  2. We’re being seen
  3. We’re being liked
  4. It deepens a sense of meaning in our lives
  5. It connects us

It’s fair to say that receiving appreciation, when it’s authentic, has significant benefits for individuals! That’s the opportunity you have as a manager, to give that to your team members.

And there’s commercial value too.

In a Gallup meta-analysis of 263 research studies, employers with the most engaged employees were 22% more profitable than those with the least engaged employees.

Take a look at Gallup’s 12 questions for more insights (and Q4 in particular).

5 languages of appreciation in the workplace

The five languages of appreciation are:

  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Quality time
  3. Acts of service
  4. Tangible gifts
  5. Physical touch

You’ll see the significance as we explore each in a little more detail.

Words of affirmation

The work done by Gary Chapman and Paul White show this is the primary language of appreciation for about 45% of people, so it’s a big one (this also means that it’s not the primary language for 55% of people!).

Words of affirmation can be praise for specific accomplishments, affirmation of a person’s character or praise for their personality.

Thank you, I really appreciate the quality of the work you did on the Delta project, the analysis was exceptionally detailed, and your work helped us to win the business.

How that praise is given – whether in a 1-1, publicly in front of the team, or in writing – also makes a big difference. Some people prefer a quiet, private, heart-felt thank you. Some people prefer to be recognized and appreciated in front of the team. Some people prefer to be recognized in writing (especially if key stakeholders are cc’d!).

Quality time

Quality time is about giving your team member the gift of time (though it’s important to note, it doesn’t always have to be your time, and it doesn’t always have to be a lot of time!).

The different languages of appreciation have what Gary Chapman and Paul White call different dialects. In quality time the dialects are:

  • Focused attention
  • Quality conversation
  • Working collegially with coworkers
  • Small group dialogue

As a result, what quality time looks like can vary. It could be dropping by a team member’s desk and spending a little time focused on them, their work, their interests. It could be a Friday afternoon ‘ice-cream hour’ for the whole team to get together. Or it could be the opportunity to lead a collaborative project.

Acts of service

Some people don’t live for praise or recognition, however they will value you pitching in to help get things done.

What can I do to help?

Pick your moments. Ask if you can be of help first. Do it their way. Do it with a positive attitude, and finish what you start.

Perhaps there’s a moment when there is a legitimate rush on, an ‘all hands to the pump’ moment. Or perhaps there’s an opportunity to work alongside a team member, to show them that you value their work. Or help them with a task that is a little out-of-scope of their role.

Look out for opportunities to appreciate your team members by stepping up and helping out.

Tangible gifts

This is not about bonuses or pay rises (that’s not appreciation, that’s performance management!).

We are talking about small, tangible gifts that demonstrate you know your team personally. Giving the right gift, at the right time, to someone who’s primary language is tangible gifts, can have a great impact.

However, for many reasons, many employers have moved away completely from giving gifts. And interestingly, in the research done by Gary Chapman and Paul White, only 6% of employees choose tangible gifts as their primary language.

Physical touch

Physical touch is controversial, and highly context and culture specific. And you might want to leave this one all together (it’s not part of the MBA Inventory).

Gary Chapman and Paul White make a case for physical touch as part of the 5 languages. They suggest a period of observation within your workplace to see if physical touch is part of the culture. Handshakes, high-fives, fist bumps, elbow bumps (in a covid world). There may be a place for these and other physical expressions of appreciation.

The 5 languages of appreciation quiz (free PDF)

For a simple, free, languages of appreciation quiz (PDF), click here. This quiz focuses on the first 4 languages of appreciation and helps you to identify your primary language.

Alternatively, go to the original source and buy a more detailed MBA Inventory (‘Motivated By Appreciation’ Inventory) to understand your primary language in more detail.

How to implement the 5 languages of appreciation within your team

First, just considering these 5 languages, and how you can use the languages in your appreciation, can have a positive benefit. Just recognizing that different people have different languages of appreciation, and tuning into that, can help make your appreciation more effective.

To take a step further, you can identify your own primary language. Do this by using the free, languages of appreciation quiz (PDF) or the more complete MBA Inventory.

Assess for yourself whether the findings seem accurate and make sense to you. Draw on your own experiences to see what language of appreciation works best for yourself. Maybe work with this for a while, observing examples and experiences so that you’re more aware of the 5 languages.

Then, discuss the 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace with your team, perhaps using a team meeting to raise the topic. Give your team the opportunity to complete the languages of appreciation quiz (PDF) or take the MBA Inventory. Follow-up in your 1-1 meetings, or consider facilitating a simple workshop on the topic.

The desired outcome? You become more aware of the 5 languages, and how to use them. You develop a better understanding of which language makes the right impact with each of your team members. As a manager, and as a team, you learn a useful skill. You’re all better able to give appreciation more effectively, with all the team and business benefits.

In conclusion

A super simple conclusion!

  • Showing appreciation to your team can have a powerful impact
  • There are 5 languages of appreciation (we don’t all appreciate the same kind appreciation!)
  • Master these languages of appreciation to hit the mark and make the desired impact

Thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time to get to the bottom of this article 😊