Appreciation in the Workplace – The Language of Value


In my last post, The Language of Appreciation in the Workplace, I introduced the appreciation languages.  Understanding these has been very valuable to me as a consultant, a leader, and a coach because they give me insight into not only what motivates people but it helps me to understand how they tell others that they are committed and giving their all to the team.

Let me explain.  The appreciation languages aren’t just about saying thank you to people for things they have done.  The language of appreciation is actually the language of value.  It is how we communicate our value to others, it is how we know others view us as valuable, and it is how we know that others desire the value that we have to contribute.

In this post, I’ll try to give some real life experience examples of how I have seen the language of appreciation communicated and perceived in the workplace and how it motivates people through the proper utilization so you can get a feel for recognizing and implementing it in your own organizations.

I’ll start with me.  My primary appreciation language is quality time.  As a consultant, a trainer, and a coach this works in my favor and motivates me because my work revolves around helping people who want what I have to give.  When I work with clients, classrooms, or teams they ask questions.  They are interested in the answers I give.  They trust my expertise.  They believe in me. When they follow my advice and they benefit from that advice I know that they are truly listening when we work through problems together.

This is an example of the language of quality time in action motivating me because I get to share my life with people and invest a portion of myself in them.  They speak the language of quality time to me because see value in me and express appreciation for that value by drawing it out of me and utilizing what I have to give.  I speak the language of quality time to them in return by actually investing time in them to give them whatever they need to learn and grow.  If they need a teacher, I’m a teacher.  If they need a coach, I’m a coach.  If they need a consultant, I’m a consultant.  If they need a friend, I’m a friend.

As an enterprise coach working with 40 teams, it is almost impossible to spend quality time with each one of them consistently.  So, I have had to rely heavily on the use of words of affirmation to motivate and encourage people.  Thankfully, this is the easiest language of appreciation to communicate and also the one that many people respond to well.  One example of how I have used words of affirmation verbally is by simply walking around and talking to people.  When I ask them about how their teams are doing I listen and praise their specific efforts.  They don’t have to have great accomplishments.  Effort counts!  I get excited when they get excited.  I get excited for them even when they don’t.  I point out things that they should be encouraged about so they will know WHEN to get excited.  I tell them things like, “Do you realize how big of an accomplishment that small step is?  This one little thing is pointing you in the direction of …”  I help them see the future by giving them words of affirmation either one on one or in front of their team members or supervisors.

Another way I use words of affirmation is in writing.  Every month I send out a newsletter called “Celebrate the Win!”  In the newsletter I include an encouraging narrative about the state of the organization and where we are headed because of what we are accomplishing daily.  Then, I include as many pictures as I can gather with captions celebrating “wins” both large and small that teams have accomplished throughout the month.  Everyone has something to celebrate.  We just have to look for it through the eyes of appreciation to see value in everyday things.  This is a way of showing appreciation for the value of people more publicly.

Both of these methods have proven to create excitement and energy in the organization.  The teams are like sponges who soak up the praise.  All they need is someone to believe in them.  They do all the work.  I just tell them they can.  I only point out to them every success I see regardless of how large or small it is.  This creates a momentum that appears to be unstoppable from the teams and that momentum is now rolling up into management.

The appreciation language of receiving gifts has been a very fun one to implement in organizations.  The size of the gift really isn’t the issue.  In fact, the cornier the gift, in my experience – the better!  It’s about the fun and the energy and the point of contact that says, “I am valued and I have this token to prove it!”  In the organization where I’m currently working as an enterprise agile coach I use the language of receiving gifts in our quarterly “Agile Celebrations” where we bring everyone together to celebrate the people and what they are doing on their path towards agility.

Some of the “gifts” we give at these celebrations are paper certificates for teams that reach a certain maturity level (This organization uses the ShuHaRi maturity model.), certificates for coming to training classes, plastic medals for people who are mentoring others, plastic trophies for people who are using metrics properly, “flip flop” keychains for people who are showing progress and doing cool things towards maturity, and the coveted “flip flop trophy” for a team that is voted by management as doing the most towards agility even though they aren’t quite there.  (The flip flop is a word play on Shu and the flip flip trophy is real a “custom made” trophy with a rubber flip flop proudly displayed on top.)

These gifts are super corny and really cheap (Oriental Trading Company is a great resource.) but the teams love them.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I can’t walk past a desk and see a plastic “thumbs up” trophy sitting proudly displayed. I know people love them because if they miss the celebration they come to me looking for their trophy – or their teams ask if they can bring extra trophies to people who missed the celebration.  They actually mail the certificates to the offshore teams to make sure they get color copies and are included in the recognition.

We make sure to take lots of pictures of the celebration and send them to everyone – including the CIO so everyone gets that public recognition they deserve. One month I invited a scrum master from another organization to attend the celebration because I wanted to give her a medal for mentoring one of our scrum masters.  She emailed me after and said, “That was genius!  If our organization did this we would be rockstars!”

I speak the language of acts of service to my teams by serving them in practical ways that encourage.  The word encourage means to inspire courage so it is my job to motivate people in ways that will give them the courage to do things that they were not sure they could do before our encounter.  Many of them are just starting out so facilitating planning sessions and retrospectives for the first time is scary and they are unsure of themselves.  One way I can serve them is to step in and facilitate the first session so they can experience being in a session before having to jump into the deep end.  Then, for the next session I step aside and let someone else facilitate and help when needed so the team can learn to be independent.  Having me serve them in this practical way lets them know that they are valuable to me and they feel appreciated and have the courage to move forward on their own.

When using the appreciation language of physical touch in the workplace it is important to always consider the culture and professional appropriateness of the physical touch.  Physical touch, when used properly can be a powerful motivator.  Earlier this week in a sprint planning session with a team whenever a breakthrough was made in figuring out the solution to a problem we did a “high five”.  This was enough to keep the team motivated and moving along.  Every high five was like a milestone that told them they were going to make it to the top of the mountain.  It wasn’t much, but it fit in perfectly with the culture of the team and it worked for their more competitive nature.

As you can see, there are as many was to speak the languages of appreciation as there are people to appreciate.  The key is understanding individuals and the language that speaks to them in order to be a better leader or team member because everyone needs and deserves to be valued and appreciated.

For more information about the languages of appreciation see Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.


The Language of Appreciation in the Workplace


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.