Do You Have a Colleague Who Is Easily Offended?

May 8, 2023 9:32 am Published by

One of the core tenets of the appreciation at work system is that not everyone feels appreciated in the same way. And the more often we communicate appreciation in the language and specific actions preferred by our colleagues, the more likely we are to hit the mark in truly encouraging them and helping them feel valued.

But, interestingly, from training thousands of employees in the concepts of authentic appreciation, we have found that:

A person’s primary language of appreciation is often the language in which they are most easily offended!

So, if you have a colleague or supervisor who seems to get upset easily (even about minor things), you may want to confirm their primary language of appreciation. It could give you some clues to underlying relational dynamics. Let’s look at examples from each language to see what may be going on:

  • Words of Affirmation. People who value words of praise can also be negatively impacted by verbal comments. Because words are their primary communication and connection channel, the messages received this way are more intense than those for whom words aren’t as important. The implication? Even appropriate corrective instructions can feel hurtful to these individuals — and clearly casual sarcastic comments may wound them. What should you do? Be gentler with corrective feedback; it doesn’t take as much oomph to get their attention. Be sure you are giving plenty of specific praise as well.

  • Quality Time. Quality time doesn’t always mean that the employee wants time with their supervisor. Some do. Some don’t — they prefer to go out to lunch or after work with their colleagues. Those who feel valued when others spend time with them can be offended in three primary ways:
    1. For supervisors: Schedule a meeting with the employee and then repeatedly cancel and reschedule (or totally forget) the meeting. This clearly communicates that other things are more important to you than they are.
    2. For colleagues: Leave them out (either intentionally or unintentionally — the result is the same) when you go out to lunch or invite a group of people for a social event. This includes quiet colleagues — even introverts like to be invited and participate in social gatherings with a small group of friends.
    3. For anyone: Not giving them your full attention when you are meeting with them one-on-one. Looking at your text messages, checking emails, answering the phone, letting someone interrupt— all communicate you are not fully with them and they aren’t that important.

  • Acts of Service. Individuals who value acts of service live by the motto “actions speak louder than words.” Showing them that they are important by doing something to help them out (especially if they are in a time crunch and trying to meet a deadline) is far more important than anything you could say. How are these employees offended? One way is to offer to help them but never actually do anything. Another offensive action is to give them input on how they could do the task differently (or better), especially if you are just standing there watching them do the task.

  • Tangible Gifts. People who are encouraged when they receive something tangible are primarily impacted that: (a) you thought about them; (b) you took time and effort to get them something; and (c) you (hopefully) have gotten to know them a bit and what they like. Interestingly, people who value gifts aren’t necessarily upset if they don’t receive something (although they may if they never get anything over a long period of time). What offends them is when everyone gets the same item — it is the personal nature of the gift that is meaningful to them. This appears to be why so many employees really aren’t that excited with the “pick your gift from the catalog” approach to recognition — it’s impersonal (and it didn’t cost the giver anything!).

  • Physical Touch. Physical touch is rarely an employee’s primary language of appreciation in the majority of North American culture. But that is not necessarily true for all employees, and clearly not the case in many other cultures. In the U.S. and Canada, it is probably easier to offend someone by touching a colleague (who doesn’t want to be touched at all, touched by you, or touched in that manner or setting). But for those for whom touch is important, you can create a negative reaction by acting cool and defensive, treating them like they are weird, and especially if you attribute negative intentions to their gesture of warmth (from their perspective). This is obviously a difficult issue, so “if in doubt, don’t.”

Hopefully, this gives you some context for understanding why a co-worker may be reacting coolly toward you — and gives you some action steps to try to improve your relationship with them. Remember: individuals are sensitive to both positive and negative messages in their preferred language of appreciation.


Categories , , ,

Published by
May 8, 2023 9:32 am

1 Comment

  • Alyssa D says:

    Another offense for acts of service would be taking over someone’s task attempting to help them.

Leave a Reply