People are more productive and more fulfilled when they perceive they are appreciated. One study found that employees who were shown appreciation and gratitude by their supervisor were 50% more productive than employees who weren't. 

When you express gratitude to your people it's critical to understand the 5 languages of appreciation. These languages were uncovered by Gary Chapman while helping couples forge stronger relationships, but they’ve crept into the broader field of personal development because the capacity to provide effective appreciation is a hallmark of great leaders. 

The 5 languages are: 

  1. Words - This one is obvious and it’s easy. Use words of encouragement and kindness to directly thank or acknowledge people. But it’s more than just saying “thank you”. Make your gratitude personal by identifying the specific behaviour or trait that you appreciate. Take appreciation to another level by the way you incorporate it into regular conversation. For example, the language used when you need something can be framed in an appreciative manner. Instead of “demanding” language (This is top priority, I need it by Friday.), use "requesting" language (Remember last month when we had that tight deadline on the make-or-break project? And you came through for us? Well, we have another deadline and I’m wondering if you are up the challenge we’ve got in front of us? We have to have it out by Friday.).
  2. Acts of Service - Perform deeds that help your people or advance ideas within their sphere of interest. Go out of your way to help them move a project forward, participate in a cause that is dear to them, or take time to send them a hand-written note. Smile in their presence. Remember the two critical times in every encounter with someone - when you meet and when you depart. Whether it is someone you see every day or only once a year, use these critical moments to convey the message that you appreciate them. 
  3. Gifts - Gifts are tangible. They may be purchased, but gifts don’t have to cost money. Gifts may be found (in a closet or file, in a magazine clipping) or made (by you or someone else). The most important aspect is the gift must be of meaning to the other person - personally or professionally. Often the greatest gift you can give to someone is the gift of your time and undivided attention.
  4. Quality Time - Engage in activities they enjoy (recreation, volunteer, civic, social, whatever). Since it may not be something you particularly enjoy, your focus needs to be why you are doing it and not what you are doing. When in conversation, ensure it is distraction-free, make eye contact, smile, listen for feelings, don't interrupt, ask questions and notice body language. Discuss topics of relevance to them.
  5. Touch - When it comes to touch, we see how appreciation truly is personal. There is nothing wrong with touch in the workplace as long as it is appropriate touch. It might be a handshake, a neck rub, high-five, fist-bump, or a pat on the shoulder and for some it might be a hug. Be sensitive to the relationship you have and the social setting you are within.
Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
— Voltaire

Regardless of the language, be creative and remember, you must be genuine with your gratitude. Do it with no expectation of return. Equally important is knowing that every person has a primary language (and a secondary preference for another of the languages). While there is some overlap between the 5 languages, when you express your gratitude, appreciation is more effectively received when it's spoken in the recipient’s primary language. The ongoing challenge with appreciation is that when you express it, you tend to default to your primary language of appreciation… because that’s what you know and love best. 

Bottom line is that you need to master identifying other people’s primary language of appreciation. Here are some tips to help you sort out people’s languages, including your own. And while nothing is 100% certain, you will hone in on their language with a little bit of effort.

Ask these questions for insights into the primary language:

  1. In which of the languages do I/they normally express appreciation?
  2. In which of the languages do I/they ask for appreciation?
  3. What drives me/them crazy about what others do? Often this is the opposite of your/their primary language. For example,
    1. people who never say thank you - WORDS
    2. someone who takes the last cup of coffee and doesn’t make a fresh pot - ACTS OF SERVICE
    3. not receiving something on a special occasion - GIFTS
    4. someone who avoids being in proximity to another - TOUCH
    5. people who do all the talking and not listen to what you have to say - QUALITY TIME

Use the handy printable guide (just fill out the form) to help you better understand your preferred language as well as that of your people. Begin with yourself and then try to understand the people closet to you. Share the guide with them and ask them what they think your primary language is. Then discuss it, even if you both came to the same conclusions or not. Have some fun with the exercise - most people do. 

Effective appreciation is simple… pay attention to the people on your team, identify their primary language of appreciation, start using that language and watch them grow.