As the CEO of a 50-person business, I strongly believe in the importance of showing appreciation and giving feedback. "Feedback is a gift" is one of our company's core values.

Many leaders embrace the importance of sharing appreciation and feedback. So, what's surprising is how few of us understand how to show appreciation and the importance of employing different tactics to show gratitude based on each person's personality.

Enter The Five Love Languages, a relationship theory book that helps people understand how individuals receive and give love. The author, Gary Chapman, believes there are five ways that people show love to each other: gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch.

In the workplace, of course, we aren't showing love--we're showing appreciation. And how we do so is important. So, as a manager, how can you apply this to better show your employees gratitude in a way that they are most apt to receive it?

Gift Giving

Some people are uncomfortable receiving presents, and some adore that a colleague has thought of them in that way. Watch people's cues-- they give you a gift, it's a good hint that that's how they'd like you to show appreciation for them, too.

Other appropriate gift-giving in the workplace examples include sending a colleague a book you've been discussing, soup when they have the flu, or a company-branded coffee mug. Want to have some fun with the idea? Create a little trophy and pass it around to the employee who's had a particularly good month or achieved a milestone.

Quality time

In the workplace, we all spend a lot of time with each other; so what distinguishes quality time versus general working together time? In my experience, it's about spending time with people and asking about their day, family, pets, or weekend. If practical, that can be during coffee or lunch. 

Take a few minutes at the beginning of your conversations to show appreciation before diving into the work topics. Remember, in the workplace, getting too personal is a big no-no, so asking someone about their weekend is vastly different from asking about their relationship with their spouse.

Words of affirmation

Most leaders already understand this area and incorporate it into the way they show gratitude. Yet in many cases, words of affirmation are needed more frequently and less formally. People who value words of affirmation are so pleased to receive a note from their boss or colleague thanking them for a job well done.

They find it motivating to earn a mention in a staff meeting about a project they completed, and a little praise goes a long way. In our company, each Friday, we all take a moment to share a high five (recognition of someone's awesome work) with a colleague.

Acts of service

This can be a bit tricky, so tread carefully here. In the workplace, offering to help out can sometimes get confusing from a roles and responsibilities perspective, and doing too much of helping others can stop individuals from meeting their personal goals. However, it's still doable as long as it doesn't become an ongoing responsibility.

For example, offer to help a colleague read over an important presentation, reach out if you see an employee struggling with their workload, or ask your team member if they want to talk through a business challenge.

Touch

Typically, touch is not an appropriate way to show gratitude in the workplace. If you're doing business internationally, it can be tricky as, in some cultures, handshakes, pats on the back, and kisses on the cheek are the norm.

But in a workplace environment, deferring to no touch is the safest approach, even if that's how a colleague might receive love in their personal lives.

Watch for individual cues

The simplest way to know how someone likes to receive appreciation is to see how they show it. If someone is asking you about your day before getting down to business, they likely value quality time, so give them more of that. If they recoil when you compliment them, scale back the affirmation. At a broader business level, you can ensure that there's a balance of ways you show gratitude as a company so that it ticks most people's love language boxes.

Showing gratitude as a company is so crucial to having happy and motivated employees, improving performance through positive reinforcement, and creating a more positive workplace. Taking the time to show appreciation in different ways across your team can pay off in dividends.

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.