Leadership blind spot: Your least valued language of appreciation

This fact that can save you a lot of time and emotional energy: a person’s lowest language of appreciation really is not important to them.

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By nature, we all tend to speak our own language of appreciation. If Acts of Service make me feel appreciated, then I will tend to pitch in and help my colleagues. If Quality Time makes me feel appreciated, then I may often go out of my way to stop by a teammate’s office and “check in” to see how they are doing. If Words of Affirmation make me feel appreciated, then you can expect that I will give use verbal praise to those with whom I work. If a high five energizes me and makes me feel appreciated, I will likely express my appreciation to others with Physical Touch.


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But if I only do what comes naturally, the language of appreciation that is least valued by me will seldom be spoken. If receiving gifts means little to me in terms of feeling appreciated, then I am likely to ignore this language of appreciation. It becomes a blind spot. I assume that since gifts have little value to me, they will be of little value to others. Thus, the coworkers for whom Tangible Gifts is their primary language of appreciation will feel unappreciated even though in my mind, I am freely expressing appreciation in one of the other languages.

The black hole 

In astronomy, a black hole is an entity that sucks in virtually everything surrounding it—light, matter, and energy. Whatever goes in never comes out. A black hole takes and takes, without giving back.

A person’s least valued language of appreciation can approximate a black hole in the work setting. When a colleague’s least important language of appreciation is Words of Affirmation, no matter how much praise you give them, it misses the mark. They will not feel encouraged or appreciated from compliments, notes of appreciation, or recognition in front of team members. Verbal affirmation is not important to them. You are essentially wasting your energy. The same can be true of any of the languages—spending quality time with team members, doing tasks to help them out, or giving them a gift card to a nice restaurant.

This fact that can save you a lot of time and emotional energy: a person’s lowest language of appreciation really is not important to them. This does not mean that the other person is weird. They are simply different—different from you.

If you don’t fully grasp and implement this reality in how you relate to your colleagues, you will waste a lot of time and energy trying to encourage them in ways that have little or no impact on them. Then you may start to feel that they are ungrateful and don’t appreciate all that you are trying to do for them. You may conclude that there is nothing that will satisfy them or make them feel like you appreciate their work. This, of course, is not true.

Overcoming the challenge of your blind spot

The first step in getting past your blind spot as a manager or colleague is to become aware of it. (If you haven’t yet, taken the MBA Inventory and discover your least favorite language of appreciation.

Understanding your least valued language can be difficult. For me, Tangible Gifts is my least valued language of appreciation. Sure, I will appreciate receiving an iTunes gift card, but it is really not a big deal to me. So it is harder for me to really understand how a colleague could get excited getting a gift. I often find myself thinking thoughts like, “They certainly get excited about something that is no big deal,” or “I just don’t get it. I would much rather get some praise than a free day at the health club.”

As a result, I have taken the initiative to talk to some of my colleagues whose primary language of appreciation is receiving tangible gifts. I asked one of my team members, “What about getting tickets to the ballgame is important to you? Why does that mean so much to you?” His response helped me to see the situation from his point of view.

“Because,” Joe replied, “first, it shows me that my team leader has taken time and interest to find out something about me personally and what I like. I played baseball in college and still love going to games. Second, he took the initiative and effort to go and get the tickets for me. It shows me that doing what it takes to encourage or reward me is worth it to him.”

Once you have identified your least valued language of appreciation, I would encourage you to talk with colleagues for whom this is their primary language of appreciation. Ask them what those actions communicate to them and how they are encouraged by them. Try to gain a deeper sense of understanding of how they are impacted by that particular language of appreciation. It will then become easier for you to learn to speak that language with your teammates for whom it is extremely important and to “hit the mark” in affirming them that you really do value them.

This article originally appeared on Appreciation at Work. 


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Paul White|is a psychologist, speaker, consultant, and the author of The Vibrant Workplace, co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.