Knowing how to effectively give and receive feedback in the workplace involves understanding the five languages of appreciation. If you’ve ever read the book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, you are probably already familiar with the concept.
In the book, Chapman predominantly writes about the basic, and yet deepest, human needs to love and receive love. It sounds like a need that is easy to meet – simply find your person and be with them, right? Wrong. It’s much more complicated than that, as anyone who is in a serious relationship already knows.
We’re going to break down the five love languages – or the five languages of appreciation – and discuss what exactly they have to do with professional relationships and workplace communication.
Defining the Five Languages of Appreciation
According to Chapman’s book, communication in relationships often struggles because two people have different ways of communicating love and affection. There are five main “languages” of communication, and each person resonates the most with perhaps two or three of them. By default, they use their favorite languages to show their partner love, because that’s how they, themselves, receive love, so they think it must work for their partner, too.
However, this is where problems bubble up in paradise. The other partner might not resonate with the same love languages as the first partner. The first partner goes to all kinds of trouble simply to show their partner affection, only for it to fall on deaf ears, so to speak. The first partner feels frustrated and the other partner feels unloved.
This doesn’t doom the relationship. It simply means that two people communicate love in different ways. When applying this concept to the workplace, one employee may feel appreciation most effectively through different languages of appreciation than some of their coworkers. Similar relationship rifts occur at the professional level when there is a communication barrier of this nature.
Without further ado, what exactly are the five languages of appreciation in the workplace?
Words of Affirmation
This pertains specifically to verbal praise and acknowledgment to fellow employees, subordinates, and even supervisors. It is actively affirming that you have seen them do something valuable to contribute to the team.
The more specific these words are, the better. A vague and universal “Good job!” alone will not do the trick. People who need to hear verbal praise to feel appreciated look for tangible details relating to what they’ve done and done well.
For example, saying something to the effect of, “I know those clients are particularly difficult to please. You did a great job handling their account,” gives appreciation to a specific task that may have been taxing on the employee who performed well when it would have been easier to pass the client account off to a manager or a coworker.
Quality time in the workplace comes in the form of being mentally present with your subordinates, coworkers, or supervisors. Focus exclusively on your interaction by giving them your undivided attention and practicing other active listening skills.
In addition to being mentally present on the job, giving coworkers appreciation in the form of quality time looks like using your own time wisely and respecting the time of others in the name of productivity. Goofing around and creating unnecessary disruptions frustrates other employees who value the hours in their workday.
Eliminate distractions while in meetings. Make known your availability and willingness to help when you’re collaborating with other team members on a project. Coworkers who need to have quality time will pick up on your focus and attention and appreciate you for it.
Acts of Service
Serving your fellow employees takes many different forms. One option is to offer to shoulder some of the workloads of an overwhelmed coworker. Another way to show an act of service would be to voluntarily clean out the breakroom fridge – something everyone will appreciate and feel appreciated for.
An act of service does not have to be a grand gesture to be effective but should involve physically taking on a task to give another team member a break. This subliminally communicates that you see the effort they are putting in and you appreciate them.
People who enjoy receiving gifts don’t need something of extravagance or high monetary value to get the effect. In other words, the gift is not about the gift at all. You are communicating appreciation through the simple demonstration that you thought of that person.
Maybe it’s an inexpensive item that relates to an inside joke, or a gift card to a restaurant they’ve been wanting to try during their lunch hour. It doesn’t have to be fancy. For those who receive appreciation effectively through receiving gifts, it truly is the thought that counts.
Appropriate Physical Touch
In the workplace, there’s an emphasis on the word “appropriate” when it comes to physical touch appreciation. High fives, fist bumps, and even handshakes can serve to communicate appreciation to a coworker.
Bear in mind that what is appropriate often varies by the resident culture of the workplace. The Western world has different acceptability standards than Europe when it comes to how much physical touch is appropriate.
Different cities in the United States can even have differences in what is widely accepted. Big city businesses may show appreciation with a handshake while associates of a small-town workplace might even go in for a bear hug.
Appreciation Languages Open Up Communication Doors
Understanding the languages of appreciation and which languages work for which coworkers significantly improves communication in the work environment. It also creates a deeper bond between employees who understand how others communicate and receive appreciation most effectively.
However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy and likely takes some troubleshooting to be effective after it is first introduced to an organization. The best way to effectively utilize the five languages of appreciation is to get to know your coworkers.
Get to Know Your Team
Now that we’ve defined the five languages of appreciation, how do we put them into practice at work? An employee development workshop is a great time for managers to introduce this concept to the entire team.
If several new employees have yet to fully integrate into the organization, educating everyone on this communication technique serves as a constructive icebreaker to help teammates get to know each other.
Employees could sit for a brief information session in which they learn all about the specific languages of appreciation and what they mean. Then, they could break off into focus groups to discuss their thoughts and share their favorite appreciation languages with their team members.
However, team development workshops aren’t always an option. Instead, managers familiar with the languages of appreciation can use observation techniques to recognize which of their employees prefer certain appreciation languages over others.
Supervisors can also incorporate the languages of appreciation into performance reviews as a means of getting to know their employees and bridging any communication gaps. Learning how to communicate effectively with individual employees makes them each feel seen and valued as team members.
The Ultimate Goal
As with other methods of improving communication, the goal of utilizing the five languages of appreciation in the workplace should be to increase employee satisfaction. Employees who are more satisfied with their work environments are happier, healthier, and more productive workers.
The five languages of appreciation are different than other approaches to good communication. Typically, referencing communication, it usually takes the shape of, “Make sure you communicate ‘effectively’ with coworkers,” or, “Good communication is key!”
The languages of appreciation take this one step further by breaking down what it means to communicate effectively. In case you haven’t been paying attention, communicating effectively involves communicating in ways that resonate with your coworkers, not just in ways that resonate with you.
While it’s understandably intimidating to think of each of your coworkers and imagine trying to learn each of their respective favorite appreciation languages, you have to focus on what you are gaining in doing so, such as:
- Better teammate bonds
- More productive workers
- Happier employees
- More productivity
- Better morale
- And more!
The concept of the “5 love languages” has no doubt helped tens of thousands of couples repair relationships for the better. Why couldn’t the same concepts be effective in the workplace? Good communication practices equate to happier employees. While some might say employee happiness is not a quantifiable metric, we disagree. The happiness of employees is measured by reduced turnover and more productive teams. When employers help their employees increase how they communicate, everyone wins.