The 5 Languages of Appreciation — what’s yours?

by Amanda Kathleen Zinke, MBA, MSOD, PCC

Motivated by Appreciation

A few weeks ago, one of my coaching clients was talking through her current work situation.  She was ready for a next role and being very thoughtful about not only where she could add value and make an impact.  My client was particularly interested in working with a manager she liked and who could support her well.  As we talked about her relationship with her current manager and past managers, she discovered that appreciation really motivated her.

The Languages of Appreciation

Our conversation brought to mind Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages®.  My client decided she would read the book for our next session.   In preparing for our call, I discovered Dr. Chapman had written another book, co-authored with Dr. Paul White, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.  The book aims to help you understand how to better encourage people you work with or alongside – coworkers, teammates, volunteers in ways that are meaningful to them (as opposed to the way you yourself would like to express or receive appreciation).

I had a bit of time the day the book arrived and was able to finish it in two sittings.  It’s a short book, with an easy, down-to earth style.  That helped draw distinctions between different types of appreciation and how a culture of appreciation can really transform a workplace.  The authors differentiate between recognition, which they say, “is about improving performance and focuses on what is good for the company.” While “appreciation emphasizes what is good for the company and good for the person”.

The Languages that Matter to Each of Us

The book asserts that everyone has a primary and secondary language of appreciation.  Though we will accept appreciation from any of the five languages, we feel most encouraged by appreciation expressed in our primary appreciation language.  Often, we give appreciation in the same way we would like to receive it.  And sometimes our appreciation falls flat as it is the least appreciated of someone’s five languages.  The languages of appreciation are not just for managers, but really work for any coworkers.  And it works in a variety of settings.

I actually saw the languages in action as I was gifting small gifts to my children’s teachers.  I was blown away by the differences in responses.    One teacher wrote in her thank you note how much she loved the experience shopping at that particular store.  Another staff person in thanking us, told my husband what she had purchased; it was important she felt that there be something tangible she had gotten.  And yet a third responded by sharing how the message we had given her with the gift had touched her.

The Five Languages of Appreciation:

  1. Words of Affirmation – language that communicates a positive message to another person. There are three subsets; praise for accomplishment, affirmation of character, and praise for personality.  And if you choose to show appreciation in this language, don’t forget the nuances of how you deliver this one.  Personal, one-on-one, praise in front of others, written affirmation or public affirmation.  I was once doing a training and mentioned something wonderful someone had done for me.  Later on, she shared that she hated public attention.  It was a great lesson to learn, and one I try to keep in mind.  Of course, the authors also remind us to make sure that we don’t share “hollow” praise.
  2. Quality Time – giving someone your focused attention. There are some dialects to this language. Quality conversation, shared experiences (preferred dialect for most men who value quality time), small group dialogue and working in close physical proximity while accomplishing a project together.  The authors note that this language “[seeks] to create a safe environment in which you can share your accomplishments, frustrations and suggestions… with a genuine desire to understand your concerns.”
  3. Acts of Service – this is when people pitch in to help and follows the adage, actions speak louder than words. If you choose to show appreciation in this way, make you are helping with something the person wants help with, and do the job to their specifications.  The authors remind us that if you are showing appreciation in this language, you should do it with a great attitude (brings to mind whistling while you work!)   And of course, finish what you start.
  4. Tangible Gifts -The authors remind us that these don’t need to be expensive but should be incredibly thoughtful and meaningful. And not just given to anyone or everyone.  They also warn against giving gifts if the situation that doesn’t warrant a gift.
  5. Physical Touch – the authors dug into this one, particularly considering the risks of unwanted touch, or touch that crosses boundaries, but ultimately concluded that pats on the back or a high five could communicate meaningful appreciation if desired and appropriately given. And these generally take the form of a spontaneous celebration.

Why utilize the languages?

The book asserts that the “the number one factor in job satisfaction is not the amount of pay but whether or not the individual feels appreciated and valued for the work they do” and shares that the US Department of Labor’s research says that 64% of Americans who leave their jobs say they do because they don’t feel appreciated”.

Want to know more?

The book notes that “If no one notices a person’s commitment to doing the job well, that person’s motivation tends to wane over time” So you could use this information to support and encourage those around you, to motivate the teams you work with or manage, or you could roll this out within a department or organization.  The book also includes some recommendations in order to incorporate widescale change programs within different types of workplaces.

The book includes an assessment code, or you can take the assessment online at the Motivating By Appreciation (MBA) Inventory.  There are special versions for use in schools, medical settings, military and nonprofit/ministries.


If you want to figure out your own Appreciation language and those of your team, and how to use it to improve performance, contact Amanda for more.