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The Recognition Style Concept

What you're about to read comes directly from a "White Paper" I wrote in 2008 and which birthed this idea of Recognition Styles. In the process of writing this paper and preparing to develop this web site I've learned much more about the value we can instill in others by looking for opportunities to encourage and support those we interact with everyday.

Recognition Styles in a Team Environment

Five Common Methods that Express Importance, Appreciation & Recognition

by Greg Paskal


I was in a meeting recently where the results of the 2008 survey were presented. One score that stood out pertained to employee satisfaction of being recognized on the job. This regrettable score highlighted two important insights, first, employees were not receiving meaningful recognition and second, they had a desire to be recognized.

What is it about recognition that's so important to people? How is it that a few words or a simple gesture can have such a significant effect on a person? I believe the answer to this is a core need all persons have in being valued as individuals. The survey results coupled with an understanding that people have a desire to be valued brought to mind a book I read many years ago by Gary Chapman. This book, titled "The Five Love Languages", was primarily focused on married couples but the principles seemed applicable in any environment where people worked together. Collectively, these were the inspiration for what you are about to read.


Recognition is often one of the most overlooked areas of value we have to offer another person. It rarely has significant financial cost but can produce exponential results in productivity, team dynamics and a sense of well being for the recipients.

Below are two important facts to remember when giving recognition, as well as five methods of expressing recognition. I hope you will sincerely consider this information when working with your team and recognizing its contributors.

Facts to Remember when Giving Recognition

  1. People value different types of recognition - We should not expect that everyone around us receives recognition in the same way. People typically give recognition in the same way they like to receive it. If we desire better working relationships with those around us, we should be aware of how these people interact with others; this is an insight into the recognition style they prefer and value the most. By neglecting to notice the recognition style of others, we limit the impact and effectiveness we have in working with them.
  2. The importance of sincerity - Nobody likes insincere recognition, manufactured out of an obligation to say something. Most have been on the receiving end of this type of recognition and there is one undeniable aspect of it that we are aware of: it's not real. Whether receiving or simply observing recognition given in this way, it's easy to see when recognition is not given with genuine sincerity. Make a concerted effort to have your recognition count by conveying a message that is genuine and sincere.

Five Common Recognition Styles

  1. Verbal & Written Affirmation - From a simple "Good Job" at the appropriate moment to other sincere words reflecting your appreciation, words of affirmation are easy to give and should be done often. A common fear about words of affirmation is that they can be given too often, thus diluting their value. The reality is if the words of affirmation are given sincerely, then this should never be a problem. Some individuals prefer this recognition to be done quietly and one on one. Others feel a greater sense of recognition when this gesture is public. This is an important distinction worth understanding when giving affirmation.
  2. Acts of Service - Simple things such as bringing someone copies from the copy machine can mean a lot to someone. It demonstrates the concept that "I appreciate what you do for us". Acts of service can be the offer to grab a cup of coffee or soft drink for a co-worker. Maybe they need a ride to pick up their car from the tire place. Acts of service typically come up on the spur of the moment and can be gone in an instant. Be open to consider a practical need someone has and consider how you might meet that need, as small as it might be, in some tangible way.
  3. Time - Giving of time outside of meetings and daily business can really instill a great sense of recognition to some people. It conveys to the receiver that "You are worth taking time out of this day for". Time can be given in increments as small as a few minutes but will mean quite a lot to the person who views time as a form of recognition. Kick it up a notch by grabbing lunch or taking a break with those that value time. These natural breaks in the day can be a good time to consider those that value time as recognition.
  4. Gifts - Giving a gift to someone who values it as a form of recognition sends the message "You were thinking about them". A person who likes gifts as recognition will generally receive the same level of satisfaction from a small gift as from a large gift. The value they receive from it is not tied to the cost of the gift but rather the knowledge that you took time to consider and reward them.
  5. Proximity - Being in the close proximity with another conveys an interest that what they are doing is important and meaningful. Consider dropping in for a visit to their work site or location and recognizing the work they are doing. A person who values this type of recognition generally is looking for interest and connection in the work they are doing. Trust is an important foundation of this type of recognition as close proximity could be misinterpreted as "looking over the shoulder" of the recipient. Ensure a good level of trust is in place when interacting with those that value close proximity as a recognition style.


A couple of tools have been created to make it easier to capture each person's recognition style. These can be used in conjunction with observation and feedback from individuals. Note that while individuals have a primary recognition style they may still consider other recognition styles valuable. Additionally, some people might find certain recognition styles undesirable, this type of information can also be captured in these tools.

  1. Individual Recognition Style Survey - Consider sending this to each individual of the team to record their desired recognition style. This tool allows them to also record "Other" recognition styles that might fall outside the typical ones. Basic instructions and a scoring key are provided within this tool to assist in filling it out. Once completed, it should be returned to the team leader to be included in the "Team Recognition Overview".

  2. Team Recognition Overview - This tool allows the compiling of the "Individual Recognition Style" surveys into one overview document. This can be used as a quick reference guide and provides insight to the overall "Team Recognition Nature". The "Team Recognition Nature" is an indicator of how the team should primarily be expressing recognition to one another. A team leader should be aware of this as the absence of it could indicate problems within team dynamics.


I hope this principle of Recognition Styles will be useful to you to strengthen your team and instill value in those that are partnering in its success. Recognition of others never returns void and the value and relationships we build in exercising genuine recognition will have ongoing rewards.


It only seems appropriate that a work written about recognition would contain a section to recognize those that helped in its development. I would like to thank Mark Johnston for his input in discussing these concepts and for his recommendations and editing. Thank you to Mark Bentsen for his encouragement and editing as well as Jeff Kemper and Kevin Holeman. Thank you to Ed Lucas for his valuable insights and encouragement to refine this work. Thank you to Gary Chapman who wrote the original Five Love Languages book which gave me the idea of applying those principles to a corporate environment.

About the Author

Greg Paskal is a Software Engineer and currently working for the Application Testing Center at JCPenney. Greg has many interests outside technology including writing and teaching which he uses regularly at the Communications School in East Texas called YWAM Woodcrest.


Gary Chapman. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Northfield Publishing (June 1, 1995)