The Easiest Way to Encourage and Support Others: Use Your Words

Words matter. The easiest way to positively impact your colleagues is to tell them what you value and appreciate about them. While supervisors and managers often try to use words to encourage their team members, their efforts often don’t “hit the mark.” Fortunately, such encouragement is easily done – whether you (or your coworkers) are working from home or onsite.

We have found that following a few simple tips can make the use of words more effective in showing appreciation and encouragement to colleagues (and help you avoid some common errors, as well). To be most effective, words of praise should:

  1. Be personal and individualized. While blast 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 specific to 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 the phrase 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!” Tell the employee specifically what they did that you appreciate. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me on time.”
  3. Tell them why what they did is important – to you, to the organization or to your clientele. While it may seem obvious to you why what they did is valuable, often employees don’t understand the big picture or the impact their action has on a number of people in the organization. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me on time. That gives me time to review it and incorporate it into my report to our executive team.”
  4. Remember that words are not equally important to everyone. In our research with over 100,000 employees, we found that less than 50% of employees want appreciation through words. That means, over 50% of employees want to be shown appreciation in other ways. For some, “words are cheap” or they have the perspective “don’t tell me I’m important, show me.” That is why we encourage leaders to have their team members find out which of the 5 languages of appreciation are important to them. To date, we’ve had over 250,000 people take the MBAI and we have recently expanded and improved the options for results for deeper analysis.

Specific Suggestions

Appreciation can be powerful and motivational when it is expressed through positive, encouraging words – especially when they are individualized and specific to the recipient. Here are some suggestions for different ways to use words with your team members:

  • Leave them an encouraging voicemail (call when you know they aren’t available or won’t answer). Use a cheerful voice. Tell them something that may be difficult (for you or for them) to say in a conversation (“I just wanted to let you know how much I value having you on the team.  You provide a sense of stability we wouldn’t have without you. Thanks for being a ‘steady Eddie.’ Have a great weekend!”)
  • On a blank piece of paper, write: “This is what I appreciate about you. You are…” Then write individual character qualities (a hard worker, dependable, funny) on Post-it notes and stick them to the paper. Don’t forget to sign the page.
  • Recognize them during a team conference call and give an example of something they did well recently and why that was important. For example: “I wanted to specifically give Jenese a ‘shout out’ for how well she handled the difficult client situation last week. She really calmed the waters, and saved them as a client for us.”
  • Find a photo or image of something they like (the mascot of a team they follow). Paste it on a page, with a message (“You are a true ‘Bulldog!’ I’m glad you are on our team. You get things done regardless of the challenges you encounter!”)
  • Use available technology (iPhone, Zoom) to record a short, fun encouraging video and send it to them.

The key is to share an encouraging word with someone (preferably in the next day or two).  Enjoy being creative and thinking about the positive characteristics you appreciate about your team members!

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, speaker and international leadership trainer who “makes work relationships work”. His company, Appreciation at Work, provides training resources for corporations, medical facilities, schools, non-profits, government agencies and over 700 colleges and universities in over 60 countries. He is the co-author with Dr. Gary Chapman of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” which has sold over 500,000 copies.

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