How to speak your team member’s language of appreciation (so your praise doesn’t miss the mark).

I was thrilled and honoured to get a sneak peak of Lauren Parson’s book Thriving Leaders Thriving Teams, and its full of practical pearls of wisdom for leaders. This topic really got me thinking so I’m delighted to have Lauren share an excerpt from her book and sprinkle your day with goodness in a book giveaway. See how to win one of two copies below!

Recognition is essential in the workplace, especially when you consider that people do more of what they’re praised for. Knowing how to deliver appreciation is a skill all leaders need to master. Rather than nagging people about what’s not been done or always pointing out mistakes, highlighting positives encourages your team to go the extra mile.


Feeling appreciated is a fundamental human need; we wither without it. Biochemically, receiving praise elicits a dopamine response in the brain, creating feelings of pride and pleasure. Dopamine is highly addictive too, which is why it creates repeat behaviour. It’s such a strong motivator, we’ll do anything we can to get our next hit.

Leaders can ensure they keep supplying it, through regular recognition. This is why a culture of appreciation is so vital. If your workplace isn’t creating this dopamine response, you can be sure people will start looking elsewhere to get their fix.

The challenge is, most of us notice when things go wrong, more than when they go right. Customer complaints, broken equipment and missed deadlines get our attention, whereas people doing their day-to-day tasks well sometimes gets missed. So, it’s vital leaders become highly skilled at looking for instances of good work and make it a habit to provide on-the-spot praise.

When leaders make a point of catching people doing things right and provide positive feedback, it has three major benefits:

  1. It boosts the recipient’s satisfaction and wellbeing in the moment.
  2. It motivates them to repeat the behaviour.
  3. It helps to buffer the times when corrective feedback is given.


People who don’t feel adequately recognised at work are three times more likely to resign in the next year and eight times more likely to be actively disengaged, rowing the boat in the opposite direction of your organisation’s goals.

What if there was a highly effective, low-cost way to:

  • improve work quality by 24%
  • lower absenteeism by 27%
  • and, reduce staff shrinkage by 10%?

Simply double the number of times your leaders recognise staff!


To ensure your praise lands with people, you need to know how they prefer to receive praise. For decades, Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages theory has transformed thousands of relationships. More recently he’s worked together with psychologist Paul White to co-author The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

  1. Words of Affirmation – using words to affirm people.
  2. Acts of Service – actions speak louder than words.
  3. Tangible Gifts – people like tangible things to feel appreciated.
  4. Quality time – giving someone your undivided attention.
  5. Physical Touch – appropriate touch, such as high fives or pats on the back.

The challenge is we all naturally (unconsciously) offer praise and appreciation in ways that we most like to receive it. The golden rule tells us to ‘treat people as you want to be treated’, but what’s even better is the platinum rule: ‘Treat people as they want to be treated.’

If you understand what motivates each of your team members, you can tailor your appreciation to what works for them.

  • Giving a gift without a card to someone who really appreciates words of affirmation will leave them wanting more.
  • Writing a fantastic message to a colleague who’d prefer some practical assistance will leave them disillusioned.
  • Covering part of someone’s shift and sending them home early won’t have as much impact as you might like if they’d really prefer a catered afternoon tea to spend quality time with their colleagues.

Understanding people’s preference for public vs private recognition is key. If I call Jenny up in the full staff meeting to give her a surprise award when she hates being the centre of attention, she’ll dislike the experience immensely. Conversely, if Mark prefers public recognition and I pull him aside and give him an envelope on the quiet, he’ll feel that I didn’t really mean it because I didn’t present it in front of his peers.

The best way to figure out how your team members prefer to receive praise is simply to ask. I use a ‘Getting to Know You Questionnaire’ when new team members start and have had many clients implement this also. When you know someone’s favourite colour, café, store, drink, artist/band, author and hobby it’s easy to surprise someone with their favourite hot drink, take them to their favourite café or play their favourite song as they arrive. They’re also asked to rate things like public vs private recognition, the importance of tangible gifts / awards / surprises, and who they most prefer recognition from – managers, peers or customers. Ask all staff these questions and keep their answers in their file for their direct managers to refer to.

In your one-on-ones you could also pose questions like:

  • What’s the best recognition you’ve ever received?
  • What sort of recognition doesn’t appeal to you?
  • What does meaningful recognition look like / sound like / feel like to you?

Once you know how to speak your team member’s language of appreciation, you’re better able to ensure they feel valued, deliver their best and stick with you for the long term.


  • People do more of what they’re praised for so focus on immediate, specific praise.
  • To have the biggest impact, recognition must be sincere and delivered in the way the person prefers to receive it.
  • Ask staff how they like to receive praise so you can speak their language of appreciation.

WIN 2 copies of Thriving Leaders Thriving Teams: Stop languishing, Start flourishing. Cultivate a positive, energised workplace. Leave a comment below or on our social post about recognition, sharing how you prefer to receive praise. Tag a friend and you’ll be in the draw to win a signed copy for you and for them. Open to all NZ residents. Draw closes on Monday 21st August.


Kurt Linke
August 9, 2023 AT 4:57PM

In my role I lead a team 100 staff, it’s important to praise people on their efforts even if they make mistakes however honest feedback to help them develop is important also. I like praise like anyone when getting results and making progress in a form of acknowledgment.

A real leader praise a diverse range of talent and tenure.

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