Languages of Appreciation author Dr. Paul White

Do you feel valued for who you are in your workplace, or merely like a “work unit?” How do you stay motivated if you’re a solopreneur or remote worker? The answer can be found in your primary language of appreciation.

Kelly Pratt, founder of the So, do it! Society chats with Dr. Paul White, co-author with dr. Gary Chapman of the book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” 

Then at 22 minutes we open up the conversation so we can “talk to think” with So, do it! Society members Elaine Garley, Susan Murphy, Amanda Lathrop, Deb Brown, Susan Brauer, Cj Staples, Jeannette Grace and Michele Jacobson.

Kelly: Normally Talk2Think is just open to members, but we have a Special Guest here today, Dr. Paul White, the co-author of one of my favorite books, “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” So, we decided to open it up to the world. I’m really excited to see we have a good “house” here as I would say in the theater world. Welcome Dr. Paul!

Dr. White: Glad to be here.

(Kelly then shares a couple administrative details with the viewing audience about how to leave questions in the chat, and she will open the screen to everyone after the first 20 minutes of interviewing Dr. White).

Kelly: I always choose a topic for the month. And this month out topic is Appreciation. When you said you were available to talk to us about appreciation two days before Thanksgiving, that seemed like kind of a gift from the Universe, so thank you so much for being available today!

Dr. White: I’m glad to join.

Kelly: I personally feel very strongly about the concept of appreciation. Gratitude is really important as we all know. Are they different?

Can you say a few words about how you see the difference between gratitude and appreciation?

Dr. White: You know, some people may not differentiate it too much and so it can be the same for them – but in how we talk about it, about appreciating another person (that’s the distinction). Gratitude can be a general attitude about life and different situations and circumstances, like I’m thankful it’s a beautiful day here. It’s sunny blue skies, and I enjoy that. But appreciation is being able to both have the sense and communicate appreciation to somebody for what they’ve done that’s been helpful. And even beyond that, for who they are. That’s one of the distinctions we make between appreciation in the workplace and say, employee recognition, which tends to be focused almost solely on performance and reaching goals. We believe that people are more than just Work Units.

“That’s one of the distinctions we make between appreciation in the workplace and say, employee recognition, which tends to be focused almost solely on performance and reaching goals. We believe that people are more than just Work Units. ” — DR. PAUL WHITE

Kelly: More than Work Units, yes! So, this whole concept of the languages started with Dr. Gary Chapman and his “Love Languages.” Is that correct?

Dr. White: Right.

Kelly: And, you have now interpreted that with Dr. Chapman and turned that toward the workplace, which makes so much sense.  How is it different between the personal love languages and work and appreciation in the workplace?

Dr. White’s co-author, Gary Chapman’s book that inspired theirs about Languages of Appreciation in the workplace, “The 5 Love Languages.”

Dr. White: I actually talked to Dr. Chapman this morning. He has been great to work with. He came up with the concept of The Five Love Languages, sold 11 million books in that over 25 years – it’s the 25th anniversary – it’s in 50 languages.

The Appreciation Languages are the same in name:

  • Words of Affirmation,
  • Quality Time,
  • Acts of Service,
  • Tangible Gifts,
  • and even Physical Touch – which is always an interesting one to talk about in the workplace!

But, they all look different in the workplace. For example, Words of Affirmation can either be done verbally or in writing, and sometimes it’s from a supervisor or manager communicating appreciation to one of their team members. But, it might be collegial, across peers and colleagues.

We try to train people to be very specific, versus just saying ‘good job.’ Being able to tell someone, ‘Steven, thank you for getting that report done and to me on time and a little bit early –‘ AND, we always try to help people explain why – whether it’s important to you, to the organization, or to your customer. So, ‘Steven, thanks for getting that report done to me on time, so I can incorporate it into my report to turn in to my supervisor on time.’ Be very specific about it.

We’ve had over 120,000 people take our inventory and did some research when we hit 100,000.

Words of Affirmation is about 45 percent of the population of the workforce. It’s a big group, but not everybody. Quality Time can either be that somebody wants individual time with one of their colleagues or their supervisor, so they can chat or ask questions, or they get a sense of value from someone that’s important to them spending time with them. But it also can be colleagues: hanging out with your friends at lunchtime or after work, that kind of thing.

Acts of Service is not rescuing a low-performing person, it’s more that words don’t mean that much to someone: a ‘words are cheap’ kind of perspective. “If you really want to help me out, help me get something done!”

Tangible Gifts in our model is not money or bonuses. It’s more small things that show that you’re getting to know them as a person and what they like. It could be bringing in their favorite Starbucks cup of coffee. Or, a magazine about a hobby or something that they’re doing. If they’re training for a half marathon, get one of those running magazines and say, ‘Here, I thought you might be interested in this.’

Physical Touch is an interesting one. It’s largely spontaneous celebration. I mean what do you do – it varies culturally, regionally – but, what do you do when something good happens? You know, it’s a high five when you finish a project, or a congratulatory handshake when you make a sale. It might be a fist bump when you solve a problem, that kind of thing.

I might say that Quality Time is about 30 to 35 percent of the population, Acts of Service about 20 to 25, Tangible Gifts is quite low – it’s actually about 6 percent – which is a problem for employee recognition programs that focus on gifts and rewards. Physical touch is less than 1 percent of people’s primary language, but it’s one of those things that still makes a difference, because you usually pair it with something else – whether it’s Words or Time.

Kelly: One of the things that caught my ear was ‘…getting to know the person.’ So you need to know who that person is. You’re giving them a gift that says, ‘I hear you.’ Almost all of these things are speaking to that: that I hear you, and you’re not just what you call this “Work Unit.”

Obviously right now in our culture the physical touch is an issue, or can be an issue. But, you make a point in the book that a work situation where there is absolutely no physical touch can feel very very cold. Figuring out how your (work) culture can bring in that human element is an important thing.

I founded the So, do it! Society based on my need to “talk to think,” and my number one language is Quality Time. Talking-to-think is really an important thing for me as a solopreneur. Many of us listening today are solopreneurs.

Can you be specific to how a solopreneur – someone who works by themselves – can apply some of these concepts?

Dr. White: Yeah. First, to reaffirm one of your points, communicating appreciation needs to be very individualized and personal. I mean it’s not generic: the same thing to everybody. As a result, we created an online assessment. It’s called the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory and comes with the book, or you can just buy codes separately. It identifies a person’s primary language of appreciation, their secondary, and their least valued one – which is an important one, because it’s sort of your blind spot for those around you – and then the specific actions for them.

“I founded the So, do it! Society based on my need to “talk to think,” and my number one language is Quality Time. Talking-to-think is really an important thing for me as a solopreneur. Many of us listening today are solopreneurs. Can you be specific to how a solopreneur – someone who works by themselves – can apply some of these concepts?” — KELLY PRATT

Dr. White: Along the way, we’ve worked with a variety of different work settings, and one of them has to do with remote workers. How do you communicate appreciation across distance? Words is fairly simple but Time, Acts of Service, even Gifts can be a little bit of challenge. So we created a remote, or long-distance version of the inventory that specifies actions for those.

I think the same thing occurs with those of you who are independent practitioners. You have colleagues in the field to commiserate with and to get a project done. Part of it is not just appreciation, but encouragement. When I talk about appreciation, it tends to be more “Past”-focused – what you’ve done that I value, appreciate. Encouragement, though, is coming alongside in the present and the future.

When you’re in an independent or a remote, long-distance situation, you have to be more intentional (about setting up outside interactions). Set up either a call or a video chat separately from business stuff, or maybe schedule 15 minutes before the business part of the call to check in personally and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? What did you do this weekend?’ You have to be intentional about it, because you don’t have the sort of serendipitous kinds of interactions that occur when you’re on site.

Kelly: I think the word intentional is critical there. This is why I’ve started these salons, because there are many of us who are working alone and need this community. Without knowing it, we are showing appreciation to one another by taking intentional time to be together. We do make time for checking in and hearing one another and using the Internet as a tool (to do so). We are pretty lucky that we have this kind of interaction available to us now.

I see another question in the chat here.

Q: Does your attitude toward a current employer affect the choices that you make when you take the inventory?

Dr. White: Let me broaden that a bit in that can your current circumstances affect your answers? And the answer is yes, but we believe that most of us have sort of a core language of appreciation that we always come back to. There can be life circumstances that changes that a little bit, though.

Specifically, when as individuals – whether it’s personally or at work – we’re undergoing a really stressful time or difficult situation, Acts of Service and Quality Time pop up a little more, because in our culture that’s how people offer support. They spend time; they listen; they maybe help out.

On the other hand, if you have a supervisor who’s very gregarious and verbal saying things all the time, you can get a little satiated with that. (You might find yourself saying,) ‘George, enough words! Help me out here.’

Where I thought the question was going was if it’s a difficult relationship, or you really don’t appreciate them, what you do? We have some online training resources where we talk about that. We’re focused on authentic appreciation, not just how you go through the motions and do it. Because we don’t want people to act like they appreciate somebody if they don’t – that tends to not go well! In the book, we talk about some ways to problem-solve that: what do you do when you don’t value somebody. In fact, I have a more recent book this Spring called, “The Vibrant Workplace,” where I identified the 10 most common obstacles for showing appreciation or communicating it and how to deal with those. And that’s one of the challenges it talks about.

Kelly: What is your number one language?

Dr. White: It typically is Words. And then followed by Acts of Service. Acts of Service tends to go up when I’ve got a lot going on and I need some help digging out of the hole!

How do you communicate genuine appreciation for someone you work with whom you don’t really like?

Kelly: In the So, do it! Salons|Society, we use something called the Kolbe Index which is about work styles. What I’m finding is most of us who are attracted to this kind of gathering are Quick Starts, which means “big idea” people. We have a few who are Fact Finders and Follow Throughs… QuickStarts really need the Follow Throughs! It will be interesting to see if there is a commonality in terms of the kind of appreciation we all feel…

In the chat, I’ve been asked, is there a correlation between what your professional appreciation languages are and your personal ones?

Dr. White: We have some data on this where we’ve had people take both the Five Love Languages Assessment and the Five Languages of Appreciation. What we found is that about two thirds of the time, a person’s personal love language in personal relationships is one of their top two Languages of Appreciation. Conversely, a person’s Language of Appreciation is around 65 to 70 percent of the time, one of their top two Love Languages. So, it’s not direct. The dynamics of relationships are different in a work setting versus in a personal setting.

Kelly: I’m curious, where does money fall in here? Because it’s not one of the five, right?

“Money is not a good tool for helping people feel individually appreciated. It’s too generic and too much like a commodity obviously, rather than something that’s very personal.” — DR. PAUL WHITE

Dr. White: Right. It’s not. Well it depends when you say money — what research has done, and it’s amazing research actually, they’ve done some meta analyses over nine years and found that money is not a good long term motivator. It’s a short term motivator, especially if you don’t have what you need. But, if you have an employee and you give them a raise, it may motivate them or make them feel rewarded for a short time. But, it doesn’t really help them enjoy their work or feel satisfied or appreciated.

Money is not a good tool for helping people feel individually appreciated.

It’s too generic and too much like a commodity obviously, rather than something that’s very personal. Though, if they have a sense that it took a lot of personal time and effort to to earn this money, and that you saved it specifically for them, that’s a different kind of method because it’s the investment of your time and energy.

Money is the commodity of business, but it’s not a good tool for helping individuals feel valued and appreciated in their work.

Kelly: I know that’s probably some of the old fashioned thought is, “I’m paying you for this job; therefore you should feel appreciated.”

Dr. White: I’ve had business owners say, ‘Hey I pay them, that’s their appreciation. Have a nice day.’ One thing we know is that 79 percent of people who leave a place of employment voluntarily cite a lack of appreciation as one of the main reasons they leave. Most businesspeople think they’re leaving for more money but that’s not the case. Leaving a job is a very emotionally taxing process, and it takes an emotional driver to make that happen. It’s when you feel like nobody gives a rip about me, I’m out of here. That’s what makes it happen.

Kelly: Interesting. We are going to open this up to everyone… First, there’s a question here that says,

Is there a way to find out how your clients and colleagues like to be appreciated beyond just asking them? Is it a different question when you’re talking about clients and colleagues?

Dr. White: First of all, asking anybody is not a very effective way, because we don’t tend to think about appreciation and “how I want to be appreciated.” We haven’t figured out a way aside from taking inventory that parses out the different actions and languages. Having said that, the closest thing to it is to ask people this, “When you’re discouraged, what has encouraged you or what would encourage you?” Because we do tend to think a little bit about more encouragement. But, you’re going to get a fairly narrow band of responses.

One of the things that we did when we first started out – the focus really was on managers and supervisors to people that report to them – but fairly quickly, we got feedback that people wanted to know how to show appreciation and encouragement to their colleagues. So that’s part of our normal process and in fact, we have a free PowerPoint slide on our website which is www.appreciationatwork.com where you can do a group profile of people that you work with so you know how different people like to be shown appreciation.

The client issue has been coming up for a long time. I just finished an article earlier this week. I think it got a handle on it… Partly, it came from working with remote workers. Appreciation has to do with valuing another person, either what they do or who they are. It has to do with the relationship. So, if you try to communicate appreciation to somebody that you don’t really have a relationship with, it’s not going to go well. It’s going to be viewed either as manipulative or you’re going to miss the mark so far, it’s going to feel very generic and be a waste of time and energy.

“Your customer is a person, not an organization. Appreciation is person-to-person. This is different than your business sending a gift basket to some company you do business with.”


One of our emphases is to help deal with the busyness that everybody feels. And one of the ways is, you aren’t supposed to do everything for everybody! You aren’t supposed to send an e-mail to everybody, because not everybody values an e-mail. You’re not supposed to spend time with everybody or check in with them, because not everyone values that. We want to identify for each person not only the language, but the specific actions within that, so that you can hit the target for each person versus doing a shotgun approach.

If you don’t have a relationship and don’t know the person very well, your best approach is some kind of verbal comment privately – maybe a personal note – and be very specific. Not just, “thanks for your help” or, “thanks for your last order.” It needs to be really specific. Your customer is a person, not an organization. Appreciation is person-to-person. This is different than your business sending a gift basket to some company you do business with. That’s organization-to-organization; that’s fine, they can do that (though, I don’t think it has much impact).

But if it’s person-to-person, the goal is to get to know that person: what they like and what they don’t like. I live in Kansas and I’m a sports follower. I grew up outside of Kansas City where the University of Kansas is. The Jayhawks play basketball. If you send me a Kansas State thing, at best I’m gonna go, “meh.” Or, I may toss it, because this is not what I’m about.

Get to know them and then try to communicate that (appreciation). Otherwise you’re really in sort of dangerous territory of actually creating some negative reactions.

Kelly: It seems to me that even as solopreneurs, many of us have a team of people that we work with. It seems a small investment to have them take the (assessment), right? We can all find out how we each feel appreciated and be armed with that information for the future. And, it wouldn’t be weird, I don’t think, to have a client take that either…?

Dr. White: It may be weird if you don’t know them at all, but if it’s a longer term, more personal relationship, no (it’s not inconceivable)… My style to introduce it would be, ‘I found cool tool about how to show appreciation in ways that are meaningful, and I value you and your business. I’d be interested (to learn) what’s the best way for me to show appreciation to you so that I don’t waste time and energy, or do something that feels weird to you.” I think somebody that you have a good relationship with would go for that.

Kelly: Let’s open the conversation here, and if we talk over each other… Raise your hand, and introduce yourself.

Dr. Paul White (top left), co-author with David Chapman of the book, “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” responds to questions posed by members of the So, do it! Society during a Talk2Think session.

Amanda L.: I’m Amanda Lathrop with Lead Sheep Productions. I do video productions to capture personal, family, and business histories. I took the test two days ago, and I came back with Quality Time with a real heavy focus on feeling listened to, and my last one was actually Words of Affirmation. So I was surprised when you said that 45 percent of people are Words of Affirmation. And you said it was hard for people to (employ) their last language to work with people on that.

Could you say more about what you do if your last language is the most popular language?

Dr. White: The issue about your least valued language is that it’s not really your “normal” response: it’s not the first thing that comes to your mind. So you have to think about it a little bit more and plan for it versus it just sort of spontaneously happens. If the majority people around (you) like having compliments and so forth, you maybe have to think about that a little bit more than just hanging back, and then being specific about what it is that they do that you value.

Susan M.: I wanted to say that I had a great lesson in appreciation just this morning. I was going to do a shout out to a couple of my clients who had birthdays today. I happened to open my email and one of them said, ‘Oh could you go on my Facebook and take off that thing that notifies everybody about my birthday? I didn’t want anybody to know that!” Lesson learned there, to check about those things!

But my question is, I was once in a group that talked to a therapist about (how) we like to give what we like to receive. Have you done any studies or have thoughts about this?

Dr. White: Yes. We tend to do little pilot research studies along the way, and what we found is that about 75 percent of the people use the language that they prefer, themselves. But not everybody. It’s not one-for-one.

The best example is gifts. For a number of people who like to give gifts, receiving gifts isn’t that big a deal to them, and so you have to be careful. Part of the reason it’s tough to figure out people’s language of appreciation is you don’t have a lot of data points in the workplace. But, if, say, they’re sending a lot of notes or calling and checking often, then Words is probably an important language for them. Is it their top one? I wouldn’t assume that, but especially with gifts… Don’t assume that people like to give gifts when (if) they receive them.

In the context of gift giving, it is the thought that counts. But, keep in mind: people are most easily offended in the Language that’s important to them. So a way to offend a Gift Giver, a person to whom exchanging gifts is important, is to give everybody the same thing – because that just shows that there was no thought. They’re not going to give it back, but it doesn’t really motivate them or make them feel valued.

Kelly: In my world, I have coffee with everyone. Right? I mean I’ve had coffee with everybody I see on the screen here. So if I gave them a gift card, a coffee gift card, and said here’s for your favorite pumpkin spice latte or you personalize it in some way, then that might make up for the generics? Again it’s getting back to knowing the person…

Dr. White: Right. A gift card (itself) is not bad. I had done some volunteer work for my church, and they sent me a nice note and gave me a gift card to Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee. I gave it to my daughter. Another time a few months later, I got another note and gift card from them. This time it was to a sporting goods store. And I like to fish. I was all jazzed, ‘OK I get free fishing lures!’

Jeannette G.: I read an article several years ago that you and Gary Chapman had written. I’ve been incorporating the Five Languages of Appreciation into the communication, consulting and training that I do.

What do you think is the most important message for me to be communicating to people when I’m training around these five Languages of Appreciation? What do you want the biggest takeaway to be?

Dr. White: Thanks for your enthusiasm and support! First of all I would say, if you haven’t already, take a look at our resources. One we have developed is an online Train the Trainer course that takes about an hour and a half to go through at your own pace.

(audio issue with feedback)

As far as the key message, you know it’s 1) not everybody feels appreciated the same way; 2) that people want to be valued or appreciated not only by their supervisors and managers but also by their colleagues; and 3) if it’s not authentic, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Those are key.

Deb B.: I have a comment. Going back to this idea of Gifts. That’s actually what my whole business is about: showing appreciation to clients and customers. But I’ve found that you can give all the same gift if you can find the commonality among your ideal clients. For example Kelly, her clients are all business owners. So what’s the thing that’s most important to them? It’s their business; that’s their babies. If she can give something that is related to their business and some sort of recognition, then across the board they’re all going to appreciate it even if it might be the same thing. Maybe it’s personalized in a different way —

I notice Elaine on the line today, and she’s in the pet business. For her clients, who are pet owners, every single one of them adores their pet. If she can find a pet-related gift, it will delight all of them because all of them have the same thing that’s important to them.

Dr. White: Right. I agree with that. Let me clarify. If you’re dealing with individual clients where you clearly can find a theme that works for them, great.

What I’ve found is if you’re dealing with a group – like if I’m working with my team, I’ve got five people that work with me. If I give them all the same gift without some personalization, it’s not going to go well. Let me give an example. I have a sister-in-law who works for a very large, well-known health care company. A couple years ago everybody, and I mean everybody from middle level management down got the same Christmas card, electronically signed by the CEO. And drum roll here! A 5 dollar gift card to Target. Way to piss people off! ‘Oh, we really value you! Here you go.’ It was across the organization.

Deb B.: I totally agree with you; I’m totally on board with that too. My husband is a corporate employee, and he got something like that, ‘Oh congratulations on your work anniversary! We really appreciate you.’

Giving everybody the same gift to show appreciation can backfire. Beware the impersonal email + gift card combo! Appreciation well-expressed is person-to-person.

If they had just allocated five dollars to his personal manager to do something that he would appreciate instead of just that electronic “meh,” he might have actually felt appreciated.

Elaine: I’m Elaine. I’m the one who helps people bring out the best in their pets. Today is interesting, because right before this meeting I was reading a Marie Forleo email about changing Thanksgiving up. Instead of saying, “Oh I’m so grateful for…” say what you appreciate. I’m working on my newsletter today to go out to my clients, and I was trying to say, ‘Oh I’m so grateful for you.’ So I was going to turn it around: Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I appreciate the love and the care that you give to your pets!

Dr. White: I think the customer/client relationship is a unique one. It has some twists to it. I think for you all as a group, as a society, I think an important topic to discuss is maybe less about appreciation, but encouragement. You know when you’re out there alone… I’ve been there. You get worn out, and you get discouraged.

First of all, how can I know? Are there any signs I can tell when you’re starting to get discouraged? Because most of us don’t just say, “Oh, help me up!” Secondly, what is encouraging to you? Using one of the five languages and the actions, I think that could be a really helpful application for you all to be able to learn how to encourage one another and and then apply it.

Kelly: That just gave me an idea. And I have no shortage of those; we know that! On this online platform that I’m building, Dr. White, there’s a way to have a little private group within there. Private, but open to all of us where we can… pop in when (we) need something, and we can talk to one another. You know, tell us what you need if you’re feeling some discouragement and share that.

The thing that I find so wonderful about our Society and the women that we’re attracting to this group is it’s an attitude of what I’ve heard called “co-oppetition.” We don’t compete with one another. Many of us do similar things. Jeanette trains people. I coach people. But none of us feels like we’re in competition with one another, and so we are very sharing about how we do our business, and so on. That’s the beauty of what we’re building here, and if we can learn how to appreciate each other, I mean, how great is that?

So Susan Brauer — What’s your language of appreciation? You’ve been helping me with strategy…

Susan B.: Mine, it actually started out to be, I think, a tie between Words of Affirmation and spending Quality Time. Words of Affirmation came out on top once I went through the next step to break the tie. Both of those things feel like… As a solopreneur you’re absolutely right that having Words of Affirmation be your premiere Language of Appreciation is tough! So, something like this Society is great.

Kelly: My original tag line, Dr. White, was “you need this (the Society) when your mirror stops talking back to you. You find yourself talking in the mirror, because it does get lonely working at your home and by yourself!”

Jeannette G.: In the research, obviously we want to be using the Language of Appreciation that speaks in the greatest volume to that person.

But in the research is there anything that says if you use the wrong language per se that it has zero effect or a negative effect?

Dr. White: I don’t have any specific research on that except for with Words. There are some people that — I have stories from each language (about how) it can be negative. I mean if somebody, they don’t like Time and you’re always stopping by, it can bug them. Or Words: I had somebody, he grew up in a setting where if somebody gave a compliment, the next thing that was coming was an “ask.” To him, (compliments) felt like, ‘What do you want from me?’

I think it’s remote that it’s going to be a high negative. Typically at worst, it’s going to be just a waste of time and energy. Most of us are gracious and say “appreciate the thought,” but whether or not that actually gets our heart? It’s more of a miss than anything else.

Kelly: Any final questions for Dr. White?

Dr. White: You can always e-mail me: Paul@drpaulwhite.com, (use the Contact Form at) www.drpaulwhite.com, and our Web site www.appreciation.com. At the Learn tab (on the website), there are free videos and articles, and we have a newsletter. We send out something once a week or so.

Kelly: I will make all of your details available in the Society. I really appreciate you spending the time to talk with us. My number one language is Quality Time, so this means the world to me to have you do this. A big, Society thank you, thank you to you!