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Appreciation Preferences in the Workplace

How valued and appreciated do you feel? Have you ever felt a little taken for granted? A little overburdened? A little unseen? It’s common for us to feel like this in a world that often forgets to slow down and appreciate. We forget to appreciate our opportunities, the moments we’re living in, or even the people around us. But, did you know that  more appreciation can start with you?  When we feel underappreciated, chances are the people around us feel it too. So, what can we do? 


I’ve long been a fan of the adage “Be what’s missing” (in fact, that’s the name of a class I teach as a part of our Supervisory Skills Series). When we see a need for more appreciation and take initiative, we show that we care about the people around us. We show that we’re willing to identify what’s missing, and work for the good of everyone to fill in the gaps. 

While a large corporate initiative to “mandate appreciation” can prove useful, another powerful idea is to create a culture of better workdays. Appreciating others is a way to organically create those better days. We don’t have to wait for someone up high to value us – we can start valuing the people around us, and create spaces where others can do the same! So, here are some examples of ways we can put the languages of appreciation to work in our daily lives! 


Appreciate Out Loud

We know from Dr. Paul White and colleagues’ recent article that words of affirmation is one of the top two languages of appreciation preferred in work relationships. Not only is it preferred by 46% of English speakers, but it’s also preferred by non-English speakers, including 62% of Portuguese speakers (Brazil), 55% of Mandarin speakers (China), 37% of French-Speaking Canadians, and 37% of Spanish speakers (Mexico, Latin America). 

Acts of service was the first preferred language of appreciation in Thailand, Turkey, and Singapore, with words of affirmation coming in second. The good news about appreciating out loud is that it’s pretty easy to do! 


Be Specific

Many of us have had experience providing feedback to someone, and if we just tell them they’re doing a “good job”, they don’t have much to go off of. Sure, they now know they’re doing “good”, but what does that mean? How does that help them? The more specific we are about what we appreciate, the more people feel like we see and know the things they do well. 


Be Recent

While it’s nice to be praised for our accomplishments 10 years ago, it’s not as impactful as when someone congratulates us on our recent promotion or job-well-done. When we appreciate recent accomplishments, we show that we’ve been paying attention and look forward to what others will accomplish in the future. 


Be Sensitive

It’s true that many people don’t like affirmation in front of others – so find ways to appreciate them individually if needed! Just because we aren’t showing our appreciation in front of others, doesn’t mean we can’t say the words! 


“I appreciate you.” 

While hearing someone say, “I appreciate that you did that,” or “I appreciate your help,” or “I appreciate your work on this,” feels good, sometimes we breeze by these compliments without realizing it. When we slow down and utilize pausing as a way to intentionally reflect, we allow time to really say, “I appreciate you.” It means: 

 I see you.  

I see the time you spent on this. I see your hard work. I see how proud you are of what you’ve accomplished. 

I value you. 

I value your time and energy on this. I value the hard work you put into our team. I value your accomplishments and dedication to our team.  

I appreciate you. 

I appreciate your time and energy commitments. I appreciate that you show up for our team. I appreciate all you do, and I want to celebrate your accomplishments. 


“I’m with you!” 

One great way to show that we value others is by showing up for them! If they like it, we can show up even more. Quality time is a top contender in English-speaking areas, and it can present itself in different ways. Some people prefer quality time with their leaders or supervisors, while others prefer collaborative and social time with their peers and colleagues.  

If you’re a leader and that seems awkward, make spaces for your people to show up with their peers. If they seem to value quality time with their friends and family outside of work, it’s possible to find ways to make that work too. 


“I was thinking of you!” 

Tangible gifts are the least desirable language of appreciation across all languages – it’s not that we can’t use them, but they shouldn’t come first! I can still give you a pick-me-up candy bar, buy you a cup of coffee, or offer a token gift that represents the project we’re working on together, but before I do those things, I need to make sure you feel valued as a human.   

So, where do they work? If I’ve already made sure that the person in front of me feels valued and appreciated, then the extra little “zing” that comes when I say something like “hey, I was thinking of you when I picked up my coffee, and I grabbed one for you too,” means that much more. Saying, “you came to mind when I saw this package of M&M’s because I remembered how much you like to sort them and eat them in pairs” – that’s the kind of token gift that makes someone feel appreciated. 


The coolest part of all of this is that once you start doing it, others follow along pretty quickly!  As we start to make our appreciation known, others feel more valued and are more willing to share their appreciation. From there, the ripple effect continues. One great place to start is by telling those around you how you feel most appreciated. When I know that my colleague prefers when I use words of affirmation, I am more inclined to use uplifting phrases or write notes, as opposed to giving high-fives. When others know how I feel most appreciated, they will be willing to do the same! 


Not great at bringing out the best in others? Not great at appreciating people, your peers, or those who are above you in the organizational hierarchy? Did you know these are things we teach? We’ve got Changemakers classes available one-off now! Check them out, or if you’d like, you can buy the whole program! If you’re interested in learning more about Changemakers, check out our resource page for more information! 



Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Business Skills & Business Acumen, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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