Oswald Letter

Know Your Employees’ Work Languages

Note from Dan Oswald: A colleague and I, on occasion, discuss various leadership or management approaches. It was more than a year ago when he floated the concept of “work languages” during one of our conversations. I told him that I agreed with his overall premise, as I believe that a leader must understand what drives each person on his or her team. That a leader must treat everyone equally, but not necessarily the same. And that it is incumbent on the leader to figure out how best to communicate with team members to get the most out of each one.

So, more than a year later, Scott Peek committed to writing his idea of “work languages” and shared it with me over the weekend. I thought it was worthy of being passed along to all of you.

by Scott Peek

You may be familiar with The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. If you are not, the theory is that there are only five ways people express and receive love:

  • Physical touch;
  • Quality time;
  • Acts of service;
  • Gifts; and
  • Words of affirmation.

Chapman’s assertion is that while someone may not show love the same way she perceives that she is loved, the ways she does both will be on this list.

My wife and I have taken Chapman’s test, and while words of affirmation are really high on my list, gifts are the lowest for me. My wife, on the other hand, thrives on acts of service, while words of affirmation are very low on her list. The hardest part of knowing how differently we receive and express love is getting outside of our own comfort zone to do things for each other while speaking their love language.

While your HR department may frown on the physical touch language, I believe the other four could also be called “the four work languages.” When you are a manager, it’s important to know your employees and how they best receive acknowledgment and praise:

  • Quality time: Some on your team may really thrive on having some one-on-one time with you. You may be able to accomplish that by inviting these employees into your office to chat or visiting with them at their workstation for a few minutes.
  • Acts of service: There may be others on your team who would appreciate you taking one of their tasks off their plate, even temporarily. First, it shows that you wouldn’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. Second, it gives them a little extra time to work on something else or just take a deep breath.
  • Gifts/bonuses: I think it’s fair to assume that money is a priority for us all and that many wouldn’t work if we didn’t need money to live the lives we want to. A small gift or bonus for employees who go above and beyond could go a long way. It could allow them to treat themselves to something they normally wouldn’t buy or do.
  • Words of affirmation: Then there are people like me. Be it a public announcement in front of other company employees or an e-mail or note just to me, when my manager takes a minute to acknowledge something I did—or even just my contribution to the company or on a project—it goes further with me than anything else.

However you prefer to express your appreciation, it’s best if you understand and deliver your appreciation in the work language of your people. If you know and cater to your employees’ work language, you will see that it pushes them to be better because they will want you to speak that language to them again.

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