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The Art of Appreciation

By Tammy Grabowski | August 17, 2021
The Art of Appreciation

John Maxwell often reminds us that the people in your circle of influence ask three questions about you before committing to being fully engaged or bought into you. Those three questions are:

  1. Can you HELP me?
  2. Do you CARE about me?
  3. Can I TRUST you?

Many leaders struggle when it comes to showing care for their teammates. It’s not that they don’t care. Most leaders care very much about the people they lead; they struggle to find the best way to show it and the time to show it.


Appreciation vs. Recognition

Leaders compensate for not being entirely sure how to show care for their followers is to provide recognition instead. While recognition is great, recognition by itself is not enough. Recognition is generally about someone’s job performance and not about the value of the person. In engagement research, it has been well documented that a significant factor in job satisfaction is how valued someone feels.

Another challenge for leaders in showing appreciation for their team is that everyone receives care or appreciation differently. I recall a time when a colleague and I were working on a project, and our boss called to tell me that he appreciated my work and that I was adding value to our company and our client. When I asked my colleague if he liked the boss affirming his value to the team, Jim said no, that he felt appreciated or cared for when he could work on an important project with others on the team, including the boss. I felt terrible for our boss; he tried to show appreciation through affirming words, but only half the team received that appreciation.


What’s a Leader to Do?

In their terrific book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People”, authors Gary Chapman and Paul White provide a heavily researched strategy for showing appreciation to those in your circle of influence. That up, down, and across; appreciation has 360-degree implications.

The five languages of appreciation that Chapman and White present are the same as the 5 Love Languages work from years ago. Still, they are applied to the workplace with additional research to validate the application to work. The five languages of appreciation are:

  1. Works of Affirmation – use words to communicate a positive message to another person.
  2. Quality Time – show you value the person by giving them your time.
  3. Acts of Service – showing care by helping someone in their work. Actions speak louder than words.
  4. Tangible Gifts – small items that show appreciation and communicates I was thinking of you.
  5. Physical Touch – appropriate physical touch in work-based relationships mostly comes in the form of celebration and support: a firm handshake, fist-bump, or pat on the back.

In the example above, my colleague Jim’s appreciation language would be Acts of Service, while I am Words of Affirmation. Knowing this would be good information for our boss and teammates. Unfortunately, most of us show appreciation to others in OUR appreciation language, not theirs. This means that I am most likely to use affirming words to show appreciation for my teammates or boss. Sharing in our appreciation language sets up an obvious disconnect that can lead to disengagement and a feeling of not being valued by my team or organization. This notion also explains why my wife, an acts of service person, wishes I would stop with all the affirming words and help her around the house!

Since most people show appreciation to others in their primary language, leaders should observe how their teammates show appreciation to others. Chapman and White also reveal several strategies for how you can learn the appreciation language of those with whom you lead and work.

Leaders should also consider how generational differences affect someone’s need for and style of receiving appreciation. Also, whether someone is a remote or mobile employee can affect which appreciation language they prefer.

Become intentional in your approach to showing value to your circle of influence. You can raise your level of influence with others and increase your ability to fully engage your team when you make showing appreciation for others a part of your leadership style.

About Perry Holley 

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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