We hardly ever think about it, but a leader’s words are a powerful means for motivating people at work.  But where do you start with what to say, or even how to say things that will inspire?

According to Dr. Paul White, co-author of The New York Times bestseller The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, words of affirmation are the primary way employees like to be shown appreciation in the workplace.

White came to that conclusion after his team analysed data from responses from over 100,000 employees who have taken the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory.  White says, “almost half of all employees (over 45%) prefer receiving verbal praise as their primary language of appreciation.”

How and What to Praise?

So, what are the words and phrases you can say as a leader to your employees? The secret falls, not just in what you say, but how you say it. The more specific you are about what you’re affirming the better. It makes the praise that much more meaningful. What to praise your employee’s typical falls into these areas.

Give praise by asking to learn from them. 

Affirm an employee’s skills by asking him or her to teach you his or her methods, or to give you feedback on critical decisions. This shows both great respect for their abilities and how much you value their expertise.

Give praise with rewards attached.

Employees that are deserving of praise work hard for going above and beyond the call of duty. So, it’s fitting to affirm them with an unexpected reward.

Give praise for performance.

It’s important for employees to know that their leaders are taking notice. So, as leaders, show them that you do pay attention to what really matters.

Give praise for character and leadership traits.

People don’t want to be praised solely for performance and results, but for other attributes they feel are equally important to driving the business forward. Things like communication skills for pulling a challenging team together, resilience for bouncing back with strong numbers after a tough quarter, and personal values that mirror organisational values in handling a tricky customer dilemma. By praising people for character traits, you reinforce the cultural behaviours that make the company a great place to work.

Always remember:

“happy staff = happy customers” and we all know without customers, there is no business. Take care of your team.