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Workplace language

Dec 11 2011 10:49 *Ian Mann

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MARRIAGE  counsellor Dr Gary Chapman noticed that everyone appears to have a “love language“, a primary way of expressing and receiving expressions of love.

While there are countless ways we can show love to one another, Chapman asserts there are five key categories or love languages that appear to be universal and comprehensive. These languages were the subject of his 1992 New York Times bestselling book The 5 Love Languages.

The five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Chapman found a common cause of marital dissatisfaction was the couple's inability to speak each other's love language, that is, to express love for one another in the language that each understands.

If the husband's love language is spending quality time with his wife, he might well feel unloved if all she does is tell him how much she loves him. He complains: "You tell me you love me, but you don't choose to spend time with me!"

Using the same formula of five languages, Chapman and White have turned their attention to the world of work in this book: The Five Languages of Appreciation.

According to the US department of labour, 64% of Americans who leave their jobs say they do so because they don't feel appreciated. Confirming this result, other evidence suggests that the number one factor in job satisfaction is not the amount of pay received, but whether or not the individual feels appreciated and valued for the work they do.

It appears there is something deep within the human psyche that cries out for appreciation. Despite this, Gallup Research reports that almost 70% of the people in the United States say they receive no praise and recognition in the workplace. 

Different folks need different strokes

In line with the five languages of love, what makes one person feel appreciated does not make another person feel the same way. There is confirmatory research that appreciation communicated globally across the organisation is not effective.

For recognition and appreciation to be effective, it must be individualised. This book is designed to assist the reader to identify their own and other’s languages of appreciation.  Proficiency in speaking the appreciation language of a colleague or subordinate can be effectively utilised to improve workplace relations.

When messages of appreciation are sent repeatedly in ways outside the language, the intent of the message misses the mark and loses the impact the sender had hoped for. That is why so many employees are not encouraged by receiving the award as part of the company's recognition plan; it doesn’t speak in their preferred language of appreciation.

"Words of affirmation" are the verbalisation of praise for achievement, accomplishment, character or personality, with the condition that they be specific. In the workplace, this is the most common appreciation dialect.

The authors describe a 15-year veteran employee whose manager said to him: “Ron, I've never told you this, but I've always admired you. You're one of the kindest men I've ever met.”

When he told his wife, she said: “He's right. You are one of the kindest men I have ever met.” He said it was the best day of his working life. This worked as appreciation only because it was sincere. Hollow words of praise are just that - hollow.

Quality time in the workplace, as at home, involves giving the person your undivided attention, maintaining eye contact, not doing other things while you are listening and, of course, not interrupting.

When a manager stops by a subordinate’s office just to “catch up”, this will be taken an expression of appreciation by someone who has quality time as their language.

For a person who has "acts of service" as their language of appreciation, a manager or colleague’s provision of assistance when they are under pressure will be understood as an expression of appreciation.

A person whose preferred language is tangible gifts will never feel valued by receiving “some help”, some of the manager’s time or a thank you - they want to touch or experience it. The gift could be of little monetary value such as an award certificate, or an oversized bonus, or anything in between.

The important point is that even the bonus, for example, won’t feel like appreciation to one who has quality time as their language. “Sure, he gave me a bonus, but he doesn’t appreciate me enough to give me any of his time!”

The fifth language, physical touch, is clearly an acceptable language of love, but needs qualification in the workplace context where unsolicited touching walks right into the sexual harassment arena. The appropriateness of this language of appreciation depends on the person, the relationship, and the organisational subculture in which it occurs.

In every culture there are appropriate and inappropriate touches between members of the opposite sex and between members of the same sex. That touch is a powerful language is evidenced by the fact that babies who are held and touched tenderly develop healthier emotional lives than those who are left for long periods without physical contact.

It is hardly an earthshattering insight that appreciation needs to be viewed as valuable by the recipient in order to have impact, but it is an insight worth hearing again - especially at year-end. 

Readability:          Light -+--- Serious

Insights:              High ---+- Low

Practical:              High ---+- Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy. 

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ian mann  |  book reveiw  |  workplace
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