The languages of appreciation: A tool for growing soft skills

People, both colleagues, direct reports and managers, want to be valued for the contributions they make.

Historically, high-level business and organizational leaders have been taught to focus on the “hard” metrics of business – financial statements, market share, increasing productivity and reducing expenses to maximize profits and shareholder value. These all are important aspects to monitor, to ensure the business is profitable and sustainable.

Similarly, engineers, computer programmers and others who work in high-tech industries most often associated with Silicon Valley are trained, focused on, and rewarded for producing results. And these high-tech companies are known to offer competitive financial rewards and recognition programs to motivate and encourage employees to keep delivering high-quality work.


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The “hard skills” of technical abilities, accounting, and financial analysis are primarily acquired through education, on-the-job training, and certificate programs. These skills are definable, quantifiable and easy to evaluate.

To some extent, these approaches focusing on production and financial results have been effective – in the short-term. But as many corporations and dot-com businesses have been experiencing in the past few years – if attention and training aren’t focused on the “soft skills” in the workplace, major problems follow. Consider the recent “chinks in the armor” exposed in the work cultures at Google, Uber, and major media companies, to cite a few.

These “soft skills” are the interpersonal – or people – skills needed to help an organization of people work together to achieve the organizations’ goals. Communication skills, conflict resolution, influence and leadership, working collaboratively, and being able to show your employees you value them are all examples of core “soft skills.” They are harder to define and measure (hence, the label “soft” skills), but they are no less important because they are key factors in creating healthy workplace cultures and effective collaborative relationships. Until recently, they have rarely been taught in classroom settings or on the job through coaching.

Traditional reward and recognition programs have typically focused on quality and volume of work delivered, but what has been missing is appreciating employees as individuals, both for the quality of the work they deliver and for the values and attitudes they demonstrate while carrying out their work.

The deficiency in soft skills among managers may be attributed largely to work cultures which emphasize competitiveness, innovation, and above all results. An overemphasis purely focused on results obtained (primarily financial results) leads executives, managers, and supervisors down the path which culminates in treating employees solely as resources to be used to reach the leaders’ goals. Employees become “production units” and cease to be valued as people.

Languages of Appreciation as a Tool to Build Soft Skills

The 5 languages of appreciation have been shown to be an effective, structured approach to develop and improve soft skills that appeal to leaders across a wide range of industries and work settings. The languages of appreciation are a tool that can be used by any employee, regardless of seniority level and independent of leadership or management roles.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace highlights the need to value employees as whole individuals. Our Appreciation at Work training process uses the 5 Languages of Appreciation principles to create a culture of appreciation in the workplace that can yield increased levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and numerous other positive effects for the employees, the company, and customers.

Combining The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace and the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory (MBA Inventory) creates a useful and straightforward framework that can be used by anyone regardless of their experience level with soft skills. The 5 languages of appreciation address the “how-to” elements of creating a culture of appreciation and covers topics related to authenticity and frequency, and provides examples for each of the five appreciation languages. The results of each employee’s MBA Inventory will show how each individual desires to be shown appreciation, guiding you in how to effectively communicate appreciation to them.

Conclusion

Business and financial managers, and high-tech occupations are often motivated by interesting and challenging problems to solve, and goals to achieve. Focusing solely on achieving goals, however, leads to a tendency to treat employees primarily as resources to get tasks done.  This often leads to a culture where employees feel used and taken advantage of.

When the 5 Languages of Appreciation are used as a tool to communicate how leaders value their employees on a regular basis, in everyday work situations, and across all responsibility levels, empathy for others develops and a foundation of important soft skills begin to be built.

People, both colleagues, direct reports and managers, want to be valued for the contributions they make. Unfortunately, most team members actually don’t feel appreciated. But very little is required to make a difference and communicate appreciation in the various ways individuals desire. Learning what form of appreciation your colleagues prefer isn’t hard. And once you know what they like, a little appreciation goes a long way to encourage those around you.

This article first appeared in the 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.