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Making ‘Negative’ Communication Healthier: The Differences Between Complaints and Concerns

A lot of comments have been voiced about the increasing intensity of negative and conflictual conversations in our culture – on television, on radio talk shows, in social media, even in our personal interactions. In reflecting on the numerous challenges facing us in the workplace and our community activities (decisions about school attendance, sports events, social gatherings), it became clear that there are a lot of areas in our lives that we can complain about. Almost simultaneously, I thought: “We are in a space where almost all of us can become overwhelmed with the amount of complaining we hear and... Continue reading...

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September 8, 2020 9:00 am
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“The New Normal” – What are you expecting?

“We aren’t going to return to ‘normal’ – there will be a ‘new normal’” is a phrase commonly heard these days – from news media, economic gurus and business consultants. But what do they mean? What do you (or I) mean when we use the phrase “new normal?” I don’t think most of us really know. It is a phrase we are used to using, but rarely define. What is ‘Normal’ Anyway? We need to start by asking ourselves, “What does ‘normal’ mean?” What do we expect when we “just want things to get back to normal?” It’s a word... Continue reading...

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June 15, 2020 8:57 am
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Four Questions (and Tips) That Will Transform Your Culture

People grow into the conversations you create around them. The best tool great leaders have to strengthen and empower others is powerful questions. Questions evoke curiosity. They force others to think. And, when answered well, allow others to take ownership of the process and responsibility for the outcomes. It has been said that powerful questions can steer any conversation away from problems and personalities and move them toward meaningful solutions. Powerful questions evoke insight, stir creativity, inspire collaboration and help craft a culture of accountability. So, to that end, let me offer four questions that, when asked often and answered... Continue reading...

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August 12, 2019 9:00 am
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How Are the 5 Love Languages and the 5 Languages of Appreciation Related?

                              Many of you are familiar with The 5 Love Languages as described in Gary Chapman’s bestselling book have found them helpful in their personal relationships. Some may wonder if there is really any difference between the 5 Love Languages and the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. While the languages discussed in both books are the same in name, the application and expression of the languages in the work environment are quite different than in personal relationships. First, you shouldn’t assume that your primary... Continue reading...

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August 5, 2019 9:00 am
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The Value of Appreciation: Convincing Skeptics

Many business and organizational leaders are skeptical about the value of appreciation.  Leaders frequently ask: *What benefits will I or my organization gain from training my leaders and staff in communicating appreciation to one another? *Why should we be concerned about whether our employees feel appreciated? *What’s the potential benefit for the time, energy and cost it will take? These questions are neither unusual nor unreasonable for those who are responsible for the financial well-being of a business. The world of work is a demanding environment with harsh realities and no one has extra time or energy to waste on... Continue reading...

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April 1, 2019 8:18 am
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How to Deal with Decisions about March Madness in the Workplace

Every Spring a national event captures the attention of millions of employees: the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournaments. Individuals who are die-hard basketball fans, those who may follow their local college team when they are doing well, and people who just like to pick teams according to their mascots – all become intrigued and involved in following the games. Understanding March Madness While “March Madness” is typically referred to as a singular event, those familiar with the tournaments know that they actually are a series of games and regional tournaments over a three-week period. The process begins with “Selection Sunday”... Continue reading...

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March 18, 2019 9:00 am
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To Give or Not to Give? That Is the Question

Many of us are (belatedly) starting to think:           “I’d like to get my boss (or colleague) a gift for the holidays, but what? I don’t want it to look like I’m trying to gain my boss’ favor.  But I don’t want just to give her some token ‘something’ that will look schmaltzy.           What could I get her?” I’m going to give you some things to think about, some of which may surprise you. First, consider not giving a gift now. Wait, and give them a meaningful gift later, after you have taken time to consider and explore.  Thoughtless... Continue reading...

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December 10, 2018 9:00 am
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5 Misconceptions about Workplace Culture (And How You Can Make a Difference)

Workplace culture is both a “hot” and important topic in the world today.  Companies, organizations, and government agencies are all struggling with the reality that they have seriously unhealthy workplace cultures.  Yet many people (including leaders) have significant misconceptions about what creates “workplace culture” and whether or not (or how) it can be changed.  Frequent results of these misconceptions include: a) individuals within the organization giving up trying to improve the culture because they view the situation as hopeless; b) they want to do something to make a difference but don’t know where to start, or c) their attempts to... Continue reading...

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November 12, 2018 9:00 am
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I often hear reports in the news about “employee engagement” and that it is going down (usually) among workers in the U.S. and across the world. What is “employee engagement” and why is it important?

Yes, “employee engagement” has been in the news a lot in the past several months. It is a term used by Human Resource professionals that represents the degree that employees are enthusiastic about their work, their willingness to learn, and their commitment to the mission of the organization. Essentially, it is a term that tries to capture how much workers are “into” their job, will persevere and work hard, and do what is necessary to help the organization succeed. Employee engagement — both the “degree” (fully engaged, marginally engaged, disengaged) and the percentage of employees (e.g. 25% fully engaged, 40%... Continue reading...

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September 30, 2013 12:31 pm
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What are some key principles you are learning with regards to showing appreciation to volunteers?

Many non-profit organizations, social service agencies, and ministries utilize a large number of volunteers to assist in providing services to their clientele.  Keeping volunteers engaged is often critical to the success of the organization. One thing we have learned about encouraging and supporting volunteers is that, for most organizations, there are different types of volunteers and, sometimes, there are lots of volunteers (think: youth sports, Girl Scouts, churches, civic organizations).  As a result, in some situations there are more volunteers than it is practically feasible to show appreciation to individually. In these circumstances, we encourage leaders and staff to start... Continue reading...

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May 9, 2013 10:56 am
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My workplace is so negative. People are cynical, sarcastic and negative communication seems to be the “norm”. Why is this? Can anything be done to make things more positive?

Unfortunately, Kym, there are some work settings which just “ooze” sarcasm and a lack of trust. In many, they’ve tried to communicate recognition, but it has often been done through a formal employee recognition program. This often leads to both a perceived belief of insincerity, as well as an emphasis on performance. When employees do not believe that others are genuine in their communication of appreciation, cynicism and a lack of trust grow. Many employees have communicated to me their resentment of only being acknowledged for their performance, and especially if the recognition only occurs when they have achieved “above... Continue reading...

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March 5, 2013 2:55 pm
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While I value praise from my supervisor, I find that when my colleagues communicate appreciation for me or something I’ve done, it really encourages me. Is that unusual?

Cynthia, your experience is not unusual at all. In fact, back in the early stages of developing our materials we were focused on managers and supervisory relationships, to the point that our initial “working title” of our inventory was the “Managing by Appreciation Inventory” (as opposed to the current “Motivating By Appreciation Inventory“.) But we also have been getting some interesting feedback as we listen to those with whom we work. One repeated message we are hearing is: Supervisors aren’t always the person employees want appreciation from — often, getting positive feedback from peers is equally (or more) important. This makes sense on a... Continue reading...

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February 26, 2013 4:18 pm
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Recently, I heard you speak and you indicated that you are finding that 25-30% of the general population report they do not want public recognition in the form of an award in front of a large group. Can you clarify what it is about public recognition they don’t like?

Great question, Barry, because I am finding that there are different aspects of receiving an award or recognition in front a large gathering that make people nervous. First, some people just don’t like the “spotlight”; they don’t want people’s focus and attention to be solely on them.  And they would prefer not to have to deal with it. Others are afraid they are going to have to say something (in some settings, making a short acceptance speech is expected) and they are scared to death to do so. One of the more common reasons given to me is that they... Continue reading...

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August 27, 2012 4:41 pm
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I have read that employee engagement is actually declining among workers in the U.S. and across the world. Why is this happening, even though many companies and organizations are focusing more on employee recognition?

Employee engagement has been shown to be a powerful factor in predicting how well a company performs in the marketplace and is related to many positive factors in employees (productivity, longevity, creative problem-solving).  Unfortunately, researchers have found that the percentage of employees who are totally disengaged or are only marginally engaged in their work is at the lowest point since the concept has been measured (in 2007).  This is in spite of the fact that approximately 80% of companies have some form of employee recognition program.  How can this be? Managers are trying to show more recognition but employees are... Continue reading...

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May 8, 2012 12:45 pm
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My organization has taken team members through the StrengthFinders process (and the DISC, previously). I am wondering if, and how, the 5 Languages of Appreciation fit with these personality assessments?

Many, many organizations have taken their managers and team members through personality style assessments and training programs.  The most common are StrengthFinders, DISC, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  We have found that The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace and the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory are excellent tools that complement these personality assessments and training and are in no way either repetitive or competitive.  That is, the 5 Languages concepts and the results from the MBA Inventory cover different concepts and actually help supervisors and colleagues better apply the information gained through the StrengthFinders, DISC and MBTI process. Our process identifies the... Continue reading...

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January 10, 2012 3:14 pm
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I keep hearing more and more about “employee engagement”. Exactly, what is it? And why is there so much news about it?

Employee engagement is a business management concept that has become “hot” in the past five years.  It is essentially the degree to which an employee is emotionally attached to their job, colleagues and organization.  One reason it has been in the news is because:  a) it is measureable (which business and organizational leaders like); and b) it has been shown to be significantly tied to a variety of employee characteristics, including their willingness to learn, their commitment to get a job done, and the likelihood that they will stay with their current employer. The problem is – recent research has shown that... Continue reading...

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November 8, 2011 12:00 pm
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I really think the 5 Languages of Appreciation would be helpful in my office, but my boss isn’t interested. Is there any way you suggest I try to introduce them to him?

Jennifer, this is a common issue raised, especially after I speak to a conference. A lot of people say to me, “My boss really needs this book, but I don’t know how to tactfully introduce it to him.” We have found three different approaches that have been successful. First, go to the free resources section of the website and find an appropriate article that could be used to introduce the languages of appreciation, saying something like, “I saw this article and thought you might find it interesting.” This often leads to at least a further discussion and allows you to... Continue reading...

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August 10, 2011 12:12 pm
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Dr. White, I work in a setting where I have ten people who report to me directly. In thinking about applying the languages of appreciation to my team, this seems overwhelming – I can’t monitor and encourage all ten at once. What should I do?

Ken, your situation is not uncommon in many business settings, and does create some challenges. Managers who have a lot of people whom they supervise can feel like showing individualized appreciation to their team members is unrealistic. And it would be, if you were trying to do so to all team members at once. Rather, we suggest you “divide and conquer” – you have to prioritize on whom you are going to focus for a period of time. We advise managers to pick 1 or 2 of their team to concentrate on initially. This can be done by first encouraging... Continue reading...

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June 30, 2011 1:26 pm
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I am the office manager of our business, and I report directly to the owner. My boss (to me) needs encouragement and support – he gets discouraged and “down”. But when I ask about him joining us in taking the MBA Inventory and participating in the training, he says: “No thanks. I’m fine.” What can I do to get him involved?

Welcome to one of the harsh realities of life, Christina. Unfortunately, we can’t force anyone else to do anything – even if we think it would be ‘good for them’. So you have a choice – do nothing or do what you can. I vote for the latter. Although it appears you cannot currently convince your boss to be involved in the 5 Languages of Appreciation process, you and your team can model the behaviors for him, and let him see for himself the positive benefits that occur. I would strongly encourage you not to use words to coax or cajole him. Rather,... Continue reading...

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May 30, 2011 2:05 pm
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It seems that The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace model dovetails nicely with the “Employee Engagement” model presented by others. How do you see these two approaches fitting together?

Susan, you are thinking the same way we are. The approach to getting individuals “engaged” in their work and workplace has shown great promise in creating more productive and positive employees.  The work by Julie Gebauer & Don Lowman (among others) has demonstrated that a proactive approach to creating more engaged workers creates benefits for both the organization and the individual. One aspect of ‘engagement’ is defined as the worker being “emotionally connected to the organization and its leaders”.  And in corporate settings, they have found that less than 40% of employees feel their senior management is interested in their well-being.... Continue reading...

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April 11, 2011 10:18 pm
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Dr. White, you often say that busyness is the #1 reason people don’t communicate appreciation at work. Do you have any tips for getting past this barrier? I work in a medical setting and it seems we are always frantic.

You are right, Suzanne, busyness is the #1 enemy of communicating appreciation in the workplace. And from work I have done with hospitals and med schools, they are one of the most frenetic workplaces I know. Let me give you a few suggestions of how you can use brief snippets of time to “connect” with your colleagues. All of them can be done in 2 – 5 minutes. *When you are on the way to a meeting or a different part of the facility, try to leave a couple of minutes early and stop by one of your colleagues’ offices... Continue reading...

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February 28, 2011 1:39 pm
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What about perceived unfairness? If one person gets an email of praise, while their colleague gets a gift card to go out for dinner, can’t this create a sense of resentment?

Steve, this is a common issue raised, especially among teams who are not that close or who are highly competitive.  Although a sense of unfairness and resentment can potentially develop, we have not found this to be a problem with the teams with whom we have consulted.  Why?  Because communicating appreciation is a ongoing process that is fluid.  While a person may initially desire verbal affirmation, and value those types of messages for a while, people’s preferences for types of encouragement can change over time.  We help educate teams about this issue and help facilitate ongoing communication among colleagues, including... Continue reading...

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January 15, 2011 6:28 pm
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