Communicate in your employees’ preferred language

By Lisa Cefali (photo by Flazingo photos)

There are many useful business books penned by astute individuals on almost every topic. I came across one unexpectedly this past year, as the authors typically write about improving personal relationships, but had now made the leap to expand their message to the workplace.
Our work relationships, as we know, are with people that we often spend more time interacting with on a daily basis than even our own partners, families and friends.
Within the current climate of multi-generational employees in the workforce; more jobs than there are people to fill them; and a need to retain talent, the more we know about valuing our employees will be key to our success.
The premise of the book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White, is that each individual has a primary language in which they wish to be appreciated. If we appreciate them in that primary language, they will respond positively.
If we choose to appreciate them in a different language, they will not respond as positively; in fact, they may not respond at all.
We all know that the golden rule states: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” However, this new concept is a variation on this rule. Rather than treating others in the way you would want to be treated, treat others as they would like to be treated.
If we want an employee to feel valued enough to continue to be motivated, perform to his/her own best and be committed to the company, we need to understand the language within which they wish to be valued. Otherwise, organizations can spend a great deal of time and money thinking they are appreciating their employees’ contribution and yet always missing the mark.
The 5 Languages of Appreciation
Words of Affirmation – Use words to communicate a positive message to the employee. Be as specific as you can. Providing affirmation of one’s character traits, although it may be more difficult to determine, is even more powerful.
Quality Time – Perhaps after a project is complete, you often hear an individual say how they think the group should all go out and celebrate. Or maybe you’ve seen the individual who comes to your office, makes themselves comfortable, and asks how things are going or wants to tell you about their day, their weekend, or some life occurrence.
This is the language of Quality Time being shown to you! Allowing the individual to spend time with you is how they feel appreciated.
Often this language is misunderstood in the workplace. People think the person is trying to be buddy-buddy with the boss so as to gain advantage. It is a genuine desire to share time with their boss and feel appreciated. Give the person your focused attention; do not multi-task, do not lose eye contact, and listen attentively – they’re looking for quality time.
Acts of Service – This language resonates with people who are of the mentality: “Don’t tell me how much you value me, show me!” It is about people helping others and doing things for them – whether to assist with the project he/she is working on or to simply help to make his/her day go more smoothly.
Tangible Gifts – This language is the most understood and is the one that is most easily used in the workplace. However, if there are five languages, is it possible that you are missing the mark a certain percentage of the time, while spending a great deal of money in the process? For those that have this as their primary language, they feel valued when they receive a gift card, or tickets, or a bonus for a job well done.
The words may be said, but the real proof is in that gift that they can use, enjoy, and experience. This is a very powerful expression of valuing an individual to many; however, it can also have minimal impact and can even turn people off to those whose main language is not Tangible Gifts.
Physical Touch – This language is one of the most difficult to translate into the working world, especially since physical touch can be inappropriate in the workplace. Appreciating one’s work with a handshake, a high five, or a simple pat on the back demonstrates the use of this language and establishes camaraderie. As long as this language of appreciation is well-defined as friendly and cordial, it can be used effectively.
Does it seem like way too much work to gain this understanding of individuals versus buying everyone gift cards? Consider this: not investing in understanding how your team would like to be appreciated could cost you more.
As employers, we need to know what actions will hit the mark and effectively communicate appreciation to each team member. True appreciation equals true engagement.
With the start of the new year, performance reviews are often in full swing or about to begin. How will you show your feedback and appreciation? Perhaps investing in the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace could be worth a shot.
Lisa Cefali is the vice president of executive search with Legacy Bowes Group, where she uses her many years of business experience, and assessment of emotional intelligence, to uncover organizational insight and those attributes that provide the best fit for her clients with their strategic planning needs. Please feel free to contact her at for your executive search, recruitment, coaching, and strategic planning needs.

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