Some people seem touchy, irritable, and easily offended – at least when we are around them! Often, though, we don’t know if it is them (they are a grumpy, angry person) or if it is something we’ve done that has offended them.
In our work with groups on discovering the different ways that people like to be appreciated (not everyone likes to be shown appreciation in the same ways), we have found a clue to some individuals’ irritability. When we communicate in the ‘language of appreciation’ preferred by our colleagues, the more likely we are to ‘hit the mark’ in truly helping them feel valued.
On the other hand, a person’s primary language of appreciation is often the way in which they are most easily offended! So if you have a colleague who seems to get upset easily (seemingly, for little reason), you may want to check out how they prefer to be shown appreciation — it may give you clues on some underlying dynamics that are going on.
Let’s look at each language of appreciation and see what may be happening:
- Words of Affirmation.
People who value words of praise are also easily negatively impacted by verbal comments. Essentially, communicating through words is their primary communication channel and the messages are received as more intense than by 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 wound them. What should you do? Be more gentle with corrective feedback with these people; it doesn’t take as much “uummpf” to get their attention. Be sure you are also giving plenty of specific praise, as well.
- Quality Time.
“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:
- Repeatedly rescheduling a meeting with a co-worker, cancel (or totally “blow off” and forget) the meeting. This clearly communicates that other things are more important to you than they are.
- Leaving your colleague out (either intentionally or unintentionally) when you go out to lunch or for a social event. This includes quiet colleagues — even introverts like to be invited to participate in social gatherings with a small group of friends.
- 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, trying to meet a deadline) is far more important than anything you could say. So how are these employees offended? One way is to just give compliments, but never do anything to at least offer to help them. The other 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 with they receive something tangible are primarily impacted by the facts that: (a) you have gotten to know them a bit and what they like, and (b) you took time and effort to get them something. Interestingly, people who value gifts aren’t necessarily upset if they don’t receive something. What does offend 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 enthralled 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 (and is usually strongly discouraged in government settings.) But showing appreciation through appropriate physical touch still occurs through acts of spontaneous celebration: a “high five” when a project is completed, a “fist bump” when a problem is solved or a congratulatory handshake when a promotion is earned. 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”. This is obviously a difficult issue, so “if in doubt, don’t.”
You now have some clues for understanding why some of your co-workers may be reacting coolly toward you — and you have some action steps to try to improve your relationship with them!
Dr. Paul White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.