“Thanks – you did a great job today.” It’s the simplest form of appreciation and in most cases it’s enough to warm a worker’s heart. Words of affirmation are one of the “languages of appreciation” that managers and team members use almost every day. But are they using it well?
Gary Chapman and Paul White are the authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Their book discusses why appreciation is one of the most important elements of employee motivation and satisfaction. That sounds elementary, and perhaps it is. Everyone, after all, wants workers to feel appreciated. The art is in figuring out how to make an individual feel it; the same kind of appreciation can have very different effects on different people.
Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss the five “languages” of appreciation that Chapman and White examine. They’re based on the Five Love Languages that Dr. Chapman developed as a marriage counseling tool. The five languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. In the workplace, Dr. Chapman and Mr. White take these concepts and apply them to office relationships.
Words of affirmation are usually expressed as praise for accomplishment. It sounds so simple, but there are many ways to get praise right – and to mess it up. One way to botch praise is to make it too public. Even though everyone likes to feel appreciated, not everyone wants praise to be public. If you have a team member who’s an introvert, for example, public praise might be excruciating instead of motivating. There are differences across cultures as well – some Asian cultures value teamwork over individual accomplishment, making it less likely they’ll enjoy being singled out for their performance. If you have someone who doesn’t seem to thrive with public praise, take the time to write her a note. If it’s handwritten, your praise will have twice the impact.
If you want to be effective with words of affirmation, be specific. Just saying “Great job!” every time someone performs well will lose its effect over time. Picking out a specific part of someone’s performance makes praise meaningful. Show that you were paying attention to what matters: “I know that those figures were challenging and complex. You did a great job of making them understandable.” “I really appreciate the extra effort you’ve been making to coach the new employee; her accuracy has improved dramatically with your help.”
Some team members want to be praised for performance, but some thrive on being praised for other factors. Chapman and White suggest that affirmation for character can also be a powerful motivator. Praising people for their self-discipline, loyalty, patience, compassion or other character trait puts the emphasis on who they are instead what they have done for you –or the company - lately. And in the end, the authors posit, character is what drives an organization. When you praise character, you reinforce company and personal values; you show the employee what matters when things may not be clear or when there’s no policy to cover a dilemma or tough decision.
You can also praise personality, which helps reinforce behaviors that make your office a great place to work. Some team members feel that their attitude should matter as much as their performance. You can motivate them when you take note of how they act in addition to what they know. “Your upbeat attitude makes everyone look forward to Mondays more.” “Your calm attitude when things go wrong helps your staff focus on fixing problems instead of panicking. That saves us a lot of time and grief.”
If you’re not really good with words of praise and affirmation, there’s good news for you: practice makes perfect. Get out there and say something nice to someone.