Appreciation at Work: Words of Affirmation (Language #1)

handwritten note“Good job everyone” can sound like praise. In reality, the global compliment can feel empty and is received as impersonal. What people really want is confirmation that you see who they are and the contribution they are making.

In this blog we will be exploring Language #1: Words of Affirmation. This series is based on Gary Chapman & Paul White’s book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.”  The book defines “Words of Affirmation” as using words to communicate a positive message to another person.

People who are Words of Affirmation can range on a spectrum of the over-achiever to someone who is insecure. What others think about them is important.  If they are not verbally affirmed, they are the ones who would most likely be looking for another job. “Words of Affirmation are most impactful in the context of a positive, healthy relationship.” If the tone is not sincere and the body language is inconsistent with the words, then it will be received as empty praise.

The Two Dialects:

A. Praise for Accomplishments. When a colleague meets or exceeds expectations on a quality job, give specific praise for their achievement.  Call attention to the specific task or behavior. For example, John, I really appreciate the thorough report you produced in such a short time. You helped the department hit our monthly goal. I want to use it as a sample for the training manual.

B.  Affirmation for Character.  Focus on the inner nature of the person.  This characteristic shows up regardless of if someone is observing them or not. For example, “Jessica, I really appreciate your kindness. I noticed that you gave one of your patients a little extra service because you saw he was having a rough day.”

Individual Styles of Receiving Words of Affirmation:

  1. Praise in Private Conversation. Some people value personal one-on-one praise because it feels more intimate and there isn’t an audience.
  2. Praise in front of Important People. Telling others about the good work of a colleague or employee can be most meaningful. The important person can be the team or a valued customer. Praise in a small group of significant people can be more valued than an award in front of a large group.
  3. Praise in Writing. An immediate response through text message or email can be received well because of the timeliness. A handwritten note can communicate more time was invested and gives a personal touch. The documentation allows someone to re-read it in the future.
  4. Praise in Public. Some people like the spotlight and attention. They want others to know of their accomplishments in front of a large audience (i.e. awards ceremony).

Applying Appreciation:

  1. Email: compliment a specific contribution to the company.
  2. Tell others about the good job I’m doing.
  3. In my review: write a specific list of the things you like about my work performance.
  4. Privately praise me.
  5. Give me encouragement after I’ve handled a difficult situation.

When I started my teaching career, I kept a “happy file” of emails and notes students wrote to me at the end of the semester. I needed these words of affirmation to remind myself that my investment in students has been impactful. The learning process can be messy and I fumbled my way through some growth spurts. The end result of constant experimentation wasn’t always pretty. In those low moments, I read the heartfelt messages of gratitude and appreciation for the passion I invested into each class. Reading one email of affirmation kept me motivated to keep challenging myself for another semester. It reminded me that even if I only touched one person’s life in the end, the daily struggle was worth it.

The next time I want to tell my class, “good job everyone,” I will stop myself from being generic. Instead, I will affirm the specific desired behavior and catch my students doing something right.

Appreciation in Action Challenge: Pick two deserving colleagues. Find a reason to praise them for their work or character in the next week. Observe the reaction.

Reflect & Share: How do you like to receive words of affirmation? (a) Dialect: achievement or character. (b) Style to Receive: private, written, small audience of important people, or large audience.

Other Blogs:

“Guess What” (blog by Never a Dull Moment)


1. Take the assessment to find out what specifically YOU need to feel appreciated. ($15 or free with purchased book). There are specialty assessments for school, medical, non-profit/ministry, military, and long-distance.

2. Buy the book: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace





Filed under communication

4 responses to “Appreciation at Work: Words of Affirmation (Language #1)

  1. Charmin, one issue that we found to be critical in order for a word of appreciation to be effective is to communicate to the recipient WHY the action (or character quality) is important — to you, to the organization, or to your clientele. Great summary!

    Paul White, PhD
    co-author, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

  2. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Series Overview | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

  3. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Recognition is Not the Same as Appreciation | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

  4. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Series Review | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

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