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  • Writer's pictureben nathan

The languages of work based relationships

When we invest in an improved work-space our people feel valued and productivity naturally increases. As a coach I’m keen to understand what it is that makes those environments better places to work.

One way to achieve this is to make our people feel appreciated. And as a study by Glassdoor revealed, 81% of employees surveyed felt more motivated to work harder when their boss showed appreciation. But it’s not easy to communicate that appreciation authentically, especially to certain colleagues!

Traditionally appreciation in the workplace has been focused on the top performers only. But what about people in the middle ground? Or those who are more introverted? Shouldn’t we make them feel valued too?

I listened to a podcast where Dr Paul White, an American psychologist explained his 5 languages to effective “work-based relationships”. From his research, Dr White breaks down the languages which people use most regularly in the workplace and to what effect.

1 – “words of affirmation” were used by 46% of participants. This doesn’t mean saying, ‘nice work Jamila,' it means going further, it means using Jamila’s name, being specific about what she has done, and highlighting the positive impact of her actions.

2 – “quality time” received 26% and as above, this requires focused attention with no distraction so we completely and authentically convey that appreciation, even if it’s only for 2 minutes.

3 – “acts of service” came in at 22%, and this is about a meaningful gesture or helping someone overcome a challenge, for example helping them set up a presentation or bringing them lunch. For some, actions speak louder than words.

4 – “tangible gifts” were 6%. And here people don’t value impersonal or tangible gifts unless they’re unique to them, for example Steve's favourite iced, sugar free, vanilla latte with soya milk!

5 – “physical touch” gained less than 1% in the study, although one might expect a higher rating in different cultures or geography.

The study also found that when these languages were used in combination, the effects were even more powerful. For example, devoting quality time to a colleague in addition to sharing specific words of affirmation, demonstrably raises that individual’s sense of value and self-esteem, and hence their work level.

For me though, the real key to using these languages is the ability to know our people better. Because only when we know every member of our team can we truly understand which language works. Remember words of affirmation don’t work for everyone, for some words are cheap and actions hit home.

Finally, what I love about this model is that it sees employees as fellow human beings, not functional workers. And when we treat them as people like us, with interests, vulnerabilities, challenges and pressures outside of work, they feel more invested in, more valued and more committed to the greater cause.

So be curious, pay attention and speak your people’s language!

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