Language of Appreciation: Quality Time


“Thanks – you did a great job today.”   Most people think words are the right way to thank someone for a job well done.  But not everyone is motivated by words of praise, no matter how heartfelt.  For some people, it’s time spent with you that tells them that they matter.

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.

I’ve been writing about 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.

Quality time people plan activities that bring the team together: supervisors who organize pot luck lunches or take the team out for coffee after the conference are showing their appreciation in this tangible way.  If you have a team member or manager who tends to connect by dropping by for a chat, pay attention to this signal; it’s easy to get it wrong.  Some managers tend to view requests for quality time as intrusive, or as asking for “friendship” instead of affirmation.  Likewise, some workers don’t necessarily want to spend face to face time with their managers; they’d rather focus on getting work done.  If you get that signal from a worker, it’s okay.  It’s not personal; they just don’t speak your language.

This particular language is fraught with landmines.  Organizational behavior experts often cite how destructive perceptions can be about those who are “in” and those who are “out” in the workplace.  Spending quality time with some workers can send a signal that they are somehow more important than others.  Even people who don’t necessarily value quality time might start to resent not getting it.

If you do spend quality time with your team, make sure you fully engage.  The definition of quality time is having your complete attention; this is not the time to be checking your Blackberry or your watch.   Practice the art of really listening to what people say, including listening for the emotions behind the words. Watch body language carefully; listen for tension in someone’s voice.  “It sounds like the new project is making you feel a little nervous – are you worried about the delivery date?”  Staff members may not tell you outright, but may be relieved if you are perceptive enough to sense what they’re feeling and make it all right to discuss it. 

Chapman and White recommend that you affirm negative feelings, even if you don’t agree with conclusions.  “I understand how the new policy would make you feel less trusted; I might feel that way myself if I were in the field. But it’s really about making sure we’re responsible about our network security and data management.” You can show empathy at the same time that you clarify issues.

The authors say that the average person listens only 17 seconds before interrupting with a response or a rebuttal.  See if you can stay engaged; make it a policy not to interrupt anyone during quality time.  You’ll be surprised at how challenging it is to just sit and listen – and at how much it’s appreciated by staff.

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