Words of Affirmation: Everyone Loves a Compliment

You rock.  My “go-to” words of affirmation for my fellow HR consultants.
This is one of my favorite love languages: Words of Affirmation. So, what is it to affirm others?   After a super quick online search, I found two meanings:

  • To state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly


  • To offer emotional support or encouragement

I’ve written before about the necessity for gratitude and appreciation among leaders.
Happy culture companies encourage employees to be helpful, encouraging, and appreciative of one another. After all, your coworkers are the ones in the trenches with you. If they value what you do, that carries a lot of weight. But leaders and managers can’t just hope that people will show appreciation for each other. They have to talk about the value of it in team meetings. They have to make the effort to notice when an employee is particularly helpful or encouraging of other team members. They have to recognize the behavior.  And, they need to model the behavior for others.
First and foremost, it begins with yourself. Don’t go out and announce “We’re going to cultivate a culture of gratitude and affirmation in the workplace!” and start demanding that people complement each other on some quota basis. This isn’t something where you go in and dictate a culture change, no matter how much your organization may need it. This is something a leader has to do on their own, with small steps that will eventually ripple throughout the organization.
Start with little things: Say thank you to people when they give you an update about a project, send you a document you were looking for or help put the conference room back in order after a meeting. Start noticing and actually looking for opportunities to praise others, like the sales rep who closed the deal or the server who handled the irate customer smoothly and calmly. You don’t have to give them a card, buy them a fancy lunch or publicly praise them — in fact, some people are very uncomfortable with public praise. All you really have to do is communicate that you appreciate them and that you see the work they do and effort that goes into it.
In my business, I might go a whole week without seeing one or another of my associates, but I know that our connection with one another over the work we do is always greatly helped when I take the time to call or email and just say “I am so impressed with your amazing HR knowledge” or “Thank you for taking on that last minute project.” I don’t want to communicate: It’s your job, so you’ll do it or else. That doesn’t promote mutual respect and cooperation. Giving someone a little appreciation for the work they put toward making your company better does.
In some companies, there’s a sense of entitlement, like “Hey, where’s the personal chef? Why don’t we get massages every week like they do at XYZ company?” That whole attitude can be a gratitude killer. It’s still up to the leader to transform it. You begin by thanking them for what they do, and chances are it will work its way back around. Imagine hearing from employees: “Hey, thank you for the free lunch. Thank you for the flex time or for creating this cheerful work atmosphere or for giving me a chance to grow in my career.”
When you start affirming people, most will notice and recognize how much better it makes them feel about their work. Then they’ll want to pass that on. And everybody will be happier, healthier, and possibly love working even more.
Contributed by Caroline Valentine, Valentine HR