Eleven years ago this week, I was hired into my first big job in corporate America. The man who hired me was Ricky Johnson, a kind, mild-mannered Southern gentleman. Every Valentine’s Day, he would buy all the women in the office each a box of chocolates. For Mother’s Day, we received flowers. He loved holidays and loved to show his staff how much he appreciated us, always with an abundance of gifts.
Ricky will always be one of my most beloved managers and the one who saw something in me and took a chance in hiring me. But I have a bone to pick with him. It’s a silly bone, but a bone nonetheless. In all his greatness, the one thing he failed to do was to take me out to lunch.
I hope you are laughing or questioning my sanity at this point, wondering how on Earth I could be bothered by something so silly. Let me explain.
The five languages
In 1995, Gary Chapman wrote a New York Times bestselling book called “The Five Love Languages.” Chapman took an in-depth look at what he identified as the five ways we express and experience love: gift giving, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and physical touch.
His theory was simple. To truly connect with someone and make that person feel loved, you had to “speak their love language.” For example, a “words of affirmation” person likes to hear praise and be told why they are special. This person thrives off of being told they’re amazing, beautiful, kind, funny (you get the picture). On the other hand, a person whose language is “acts of service” feels loved when their partner comes home from work, walks the dog, cooks dinner and runs out to the store to get milk. Those “acts” are seen as expressions of love.
In 2011, Chapman partnered with Paul White to co-author the book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” The concept was the same. People need to feel appreciated and valued at work, and each of us speaks a primary language.
This translates into how we want to be appreciated. The “words of affirmation” people enjoy being told they did a good job on a project. They might even thrive off of public praise from the boss, but either way, they like to be told why they are special. Individuals whose language is gift giving like to be given, well, gifts! The gifts don’t have to be lavish. It’s the thought, and more importantly, the acting on that thought that means something to them. Gifts represent something special and when they give gifts, it’s an expression of their feelings for you. I will venture to guess that Ricky has gift giving as his primary language of appreciation.
Know your team
I recently read Chapman and White’s book and, now that I am a manager, I see the value in knowing my own team’s language of appreciation. With statistics today saying more and more employees are disengaged from their work and feel undervalued, making people feel special is of utmost importance.
Being appreciated isn’t touchy-feely, frou-frou stuff. Dale Carnegie once said that feeling appreciated is as important to our existence as food, water and shelter. So don’t miss such a simple opportunity to connect with your people.
Each of us has a primary language and then a secondary language. The trick is to find what yours are and what your team’s languages are. My primary language is words of affirmation. I love to tell people how great they are, why I find them uniquely special, and in turn, like to hear the same things back. But my secondary language is quality time. Spending time with the people I care most about in life has great value to me. Whether it’s just sitting in front of the TV together, or going out to lunch, having one-on-one time with someone I care about fills my heart.
So make time to learn your teammate’s preferred language of appreciation and start speaking to them so your message resonates the way they’d like to hear it.
And if anyone knows Ricky, please let him know I’d still like to go out to lunch with him and, of course, I will be bringing him a great big present.