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Tips for Using Words of Appreciation at Work Effectively

In honor of June being National Effective Communication Month, we wanted to spotlight the most ‘popular’ language of appreciation, words of affirmation. While this is the easiest language for most people to understand and use, words of affirmation at work isn’t always deployed effectively.

Supervisors and managers often use words to encourage their team members. Compliments, a simple “thank you”, praise in front of others – all are examples of common uses of words to send positive messages in the workplace.

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 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!” Tell specifically what the employee did that you appreciate. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me on time.”

3. Tell 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 that action has on a number of people in the organization. “Thanks, Steven, for getting your report completed and to me on time because that gives me time to review it and incorporate it into my report to our director.”

4. Remember that words are not equally important to everyone. In our research with over 100,000 employees, we found that less than 50 percent of employees want appreciation through words. That means over 50 percent of employees want to be shown appreciation in ways other than words.  For some, “words are cheap,” or they have the perspective of “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 five languages of appreciation are important to them.

Communicating appreciation can be powerful and motivating when it is expressed through positive, encouraging words – especially when they are individualized and specific to the recipient.

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Profile Photo Amy DeWolf

It’s so true that folks like to receive recognition in different ways and what works for one person may not resonate as well with another. It’s really good feedback to be as specific as possible with your praise. When you get busy, it is easy to lose sight of this and you think “I still want to say something” but really, the specificity goes a long way and is worth the extra minute.