Avoiding mistakes: How others don’t want to be shown appreciation

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While the primary focus of our work with the 5 languages of appreciation has been to help individuals learn how to communicate authentic appreciation in the ways meaningful to one another, we’ve learned that the ‘flip side’ is also important. That is, how do you avoid inadvertently using actions to show appreciation that your coworker clearly doesn’t want? The goal is to communicate positively with one’s colleagues, so making them uncomfortable or even offending them is not what anyone really intends.

Since, as an organization, we are committed to learning, growing, and improving, we undertook the process to explore the issue of avoiding unwanted acts of appreciation and incorporated them into our Expanded version of the MBA Inventory.

How We Approached the Task

We used a set of principles as guidelines to help us in creating a new section on actions that create a negative response. To steer the choice of items to include, we affirmed that:

a) identifying the most undesired actions was important (as opposed to mildly irritating ones) in order to avoid major negative reactions by colleagues;

b) undesired actions can occur in any language of appreciation, even in one’s Primary language of appreciation (for example, in Words of Affirmation, having to go up in front of a large group to be recognized creates a high negative reaction in many, but is desired by others);

c) while there are individual differences and unique preferences, some patterns of unwanted actions do occur across groups.

Our Process for Identifying Undesired Acts of Appreciation

Over the years of providing Appreciation at Work training to hundreds of groups, we’ve been given multiple examples by participants of how they don’t want to receive appreciation from others. We compiled these examples into lists associated with each appreciation language, and then obtained feedback from various key groups (our Premiere Partners, Affiliated Appreciation at Work Facilitators, our AAW team members, and strategic partners) to further refine the list of undesired actions.

We then created lists of the ten most frequently mentioned undesired actions for each appreciation language, and present these in the Expanded version of the MBA Inventory for individuals to choose. Each person can identify up to two actions in each language of appreciation they don’t want other to use.

Examples:  Commonly Chosen Actions to Avoid

Remembering that each person is different, and their personal preferences are unique, some actions seem to be disliked by someemployees but still desired by others. Therefore, it is critical to find out and confirm which actions each of your team members desires and those they want to avoid. Trying to guess won’t work.

To provide a practical understanding of the process, here are examples from each appreciation language of actions many employees specify that they don’t want others to do for them:

Words of Affirmation

        *When words are vague / not specific / generic / insincere

        *When the compliment seems to be said for the benefit of the one saying the words, not the person who the words are about

Quality Time

          *Presented under the façade of quality time, but is actually part of a list of to-do’s

           *When I am busy or under a tight deadline for a project

Acts of Service

           *Jumping in without knowing what will help me the most

           *Telling me how the task should be done differently while helping

Tangible Gifts

           *Impractical items: cheap gifts, useless items

           *No thought or effort behind the gift

Physical Touch

           *When the touch is initiated by the other person, without me choosing to respond

           *Lack of personal space awareness / standing too close.

What You Want to Avoid

Why is it important to know what your colleagues don’t want you to do when trying to show them appreciation? For a number of reasons.

First, to help you avoid making a mistake and offending someone inadvertently. Assuming your motivation is to encourage and support your colleague, we want to assist you in not using an action (which you think is positive) that will create a negative reaction in the recipient.

Secondly, so you don’t waste time, energy & money trying to show appreciation in ways that aren’t going to work. Obviously, the goal is to “hit the mark” by using an action that is meaningful to your colleague. Above and beyond not making a big mistake, we also want to assist you in expending time and energy on actions that will not have any positive impact.

Finally, to aid all team members in “thinking through” their actions and reminding them that not everyone likes the same actions they do. This is a growth area for many employees (and leaders) – to learn and accept that not everyone values the same types of appreciation.

A Win-Win-Win Opportunity

When supervisors, managers, and team members learn the preferred languages of appreciation, the specific actions desired, and the actions undesired by their colleagues, this provides a “triple win” opportunity:

*a “win” for the person communicating the appreciation – that they “hit the mark” in their communication and avoid making a mistake;

*a “win” for the recipient – they receive a message of appreciation and encouragement that is actually meaningful to them, and will result in their feeling truly valued;

*a “win” for the organization – when team members truly feel valued (as opposed to non-meaningful actions applied randomly), lots of positive results begin to occur. Communication improves, conflict declines, productivity increases, and customers are served more efficiently.

We believe that, with the new components added, the Expanded version of the MBA Inventory is, by far, the most accurate and practical tool available in the marketplace for determining how to effectively communicate authentic appreciation within your organization. Give it a try!

This article first appeared on Appreciation Blog.