Words Aren’t Enough

November 28, 2022 9:00 am Published by

A major misconception many people have is that communicating appreciation is essentially a verbal act – saying thank you, giving a compliment, or sharing with a colleague why you appreciate them. So, when people hear the term ‘appreciation,’ many automatically think of words. The problem is: this is only part of the picture.

Consider the following:

  • When evaluating the responses of over 350,000 individuals across the world, less than half of employees choose words as the primary way they want to be shown appreciation. By doing some quick math, it becomes clear that if you only communicate appreciation to others with words, then you are destined to miss the mark with half of your employees because you aren’t expressing your appreciation in the way that they value. The result? Miscommunication.  A waste of time and energy. Lack of impact. And eventually, frustration (both on your part, “How many times do I have to tell them …?” and on their part, “Why don’t they ever check in to see how I’m doing?”).
  • A number of people don’t trust (or believe) what others say. As a result, verbal messages are either discounted or viewed skeptically, regardless of whether they are spoken or written. Have you ever heard these sayings? “Words are cheap.” “Don’t tell me you value me. Show me.” There are many people who have good reasons not to believe what others are telling them. Some of our coworkers grew up in situations where they couldn’t trust what others said; they were lied to or deceived routinely. Others have lived through circumstances where they were promised something (sometimes repeatedly) that never came to fruition. So their “skepticism-meter” is set on high.
  • Almost 50% of those you work with experience appreciation more deeply when the appreciation is expressed in ways other than words. This may be through Quality Time (26% of employees) with those they value, or via an Act of Service (21%) that helps them practically in their daily work tasks. Often these two appreciation languages may be combined with words to effectively show how much you value your colleagues, but words by themselves will fall short. Note that identifying a colleague’s primary appreciation language is helpful, but it is critical to get the specific actions correct as well. For example, some who value Quality Time really don’t want time with their supervisor – they want to hang out with their colleagues after work. Similarly, individuals who value Acts of Service are usually quite specific about what kind of help they want (e.g. answer their phone so they can stay focused on a time-sensitive project) and what they don’t want (straightening up the piles in their office).

If You Have to Use Words . . .

While Words of Affirmation is the easiest language for most people to understand and use, they aren’t always implemented effectively. We have found that following a few simple tips can make a significant difference. To be most effective words of praise should:

1. Be personal and individualized. While group emails (“Way to go, team!”) are an okay start, by definition they are impersonal. Direct your communication to one person and make your statement be about them.

2. The more specific the better. In a poll we conducted with thousands of employees, one of the most common phrases team members don’t want to hear is, “Good job.” Why? Because it is so general and generic it could be applied to anyone at any time. Additionally, I’ve had technical employees say, “My boss (who isn’t technically trained), wouldn’t know if I did a good job or not!” Be specific — tell them what they did (or a character quality they have) that you appreciate. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me before the deadline.”

3. Tell them why what they did is important – to you, to the organization, or to your customers. While it may seem obvious to you why what they did is valuable, often employees don’t understand the big picture or the impact that action has on a number of people in the organization. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me before the deadline. That helps me get my report to my supervisor on time.”

But Remember: If They Don’t Value Words …

For many of us for whom verbal praise is what we like to hear, we forget that if a colleague doesn’t value words, it doesn’t matter how many words you use, how you phrase them, or how often you say them – you won’t be successful in communicating appreciation in the way that is important to them.

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To learn how to communicate appreciation in the language and specific actions desired by your colleagues, have your team take the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (and get a group summary report so you can share the results with one another).

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November 28, 2022 9:00 am

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