To Each Their Own: Giving Feedback to Introverts and Extroverts

The authors of The 5 Love Languages stumbled onto a very poignant concept for the creation of successful family and romantic relationships—and readers agree. The book has sold over 10 million copies. But who knew they created an equally compelling concept for the workplace?

In their book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman and his co-author Paul White apply the idea of preferences regarding types of recognition and feedback to the workplace. There are five key ways to express appreciation to colleagues, and these can be used with direct reports, supervisors, or peers.

We know extroverts and introverts often take rather different approaches to work, so it only makes sense to tailor the way feedback and appreciation are delivered to them. Previous thinking has not made a distinction among which languages of appreciation are most preferred by introverts and extroverts. The key is for managers to know which languages of appreciation their employees positively respond to and to communicate appreciation regularly and genuinely. We must recognize that extroverted and introverted employees have very different preferences and account for that in the languages of appreciation we communicate.

So what are the five languages of appreciation, and how can you adapt them to introvert and extrovert employees?

Words of Affirmation entail verbally communicating to your employee that they have done something valuable. These must be tailored to the particular context and individual. Don’t just say, “Good job,” but rather show you were paying attention to the details. For example, you might say, “I know that those figures were challenging and complex. You did a great job of making them understandable,” or “I really appreciate the extra effort you’ve been making to coach the new employee; her accuracy has improved dramatically with your help.”

The differentiator between introverts and extroverts comes in the setting. Extroverts are more apt to be social creatures and respond well to being complimented in front of others. In contrast, public praise is most likely to embarrass introverts. So if it is appropriate, don’t hesitate to openly show your appreciation for your extrovert employees in front of others (while being careful to not display favoritism). While introverted employees may still like words of affirmation, praising them in private will generally allow them to feel more comfortable and genuinely appreciated.

Quality Time involves listening to your employee (rather than talking) and letting them express their ideas in-depth. This is the most important expression of appreciation for introverts. Extroverts are generally at ease communicating their ideas, concerns, and questions to their managers or co-workers in informal group settings. Introverts may be more reserved, avoiding interjecting individual concerns in group discussions. Quality time planned in advance allows introverts the opportunity to process their thoughts beforehand. A monthly one-on-one meeting with each employee, for example, is a great practice, and introverts are likely to take advantage of that time with you. Make sure you actively listen and respond to what is voiced in these meetings!

Acts of Service means physically taking on a task and alleviating that work for someone else. This shows you recognize the amount of work your employees do and that you value them and their contributions. These are easier to do for extroverts than for introverts as extroverts are more likely to openly discuss what you can do to help them. For both extroverts and introverts, ensure you present an act of service as an act of appreciation for their hard work; otherwise, it may appear as a failure on their part in getting the job done.

Giving Tangible Gifts is not about the cost of the gift, but rather showing that you thought of the person and bought something you knew they would enjoy. This language of appreciation is one of the trickier expressions. Although it is really about the intention, in our experience, the gift itself matters more to extroverts than introverts. Extroverts often appreciate something that can be shown to others or displayed: while bringing them a muffin from Tim Horton’s because you knew they wanted to try it is a good thought, its effect will be short-lived, just like the muffin itself. Tickets to a sporting event may be a better idea because it involves an experience.  

Physical Touch in the workplace is powerful and can be as simple as placing your hand on a shoulder, giving a pat on the back, or cheering with a high-five, all of which can resonate with some people and indicate to them they are appreciated. But be especially cognizant of preferences and boundaries here! This one, in our opinion, should mainly be reserved for extroverts. Many extroverts, but not all, respond well to appropriate physical contact, but it’s important not to invade anyone’s personal space. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is “If there’s a doubt, then don’t.”

Many managers make the mistake of mostly using their own preferred language of appreciation. It’s a natural instinct, but leaders need to realize that if they want to express appreciation effectively, it’s best to do in the language the other person likes, not their own favorite.

Each employee is unique, and it can be difficult to navigate the different expressions in a diverse team. We have suggested some general guidelines—however, the more you get to know your introverted and extroverted employees, the clearer their preferred languages of appreciation will become!

Karl Moore and Adrienne Jung

Karl Moore, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor, Desautels Faculty of Management; Associate Professor, Dept. of Neurology & Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University; and an Associate Fellow, Green Templeton College, Oxford University. He is doing a major research project on quiet leaders: Introverts in the Executive Suite. He is also an Associate of the Quiet Leadership Institute.

Adrienne Jung is a McGill MBA graduate who is working as a manager at the McGill Faculty of Medicine.

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  • Diane Horsley

    This was an interesting article but sometimes I think it lumps introverts all into one box. I find praise difficult to accept but at the same time I do get annoyed if others are being praised publically and I am not. For me, I nee the praise to be believable. What I mean is, it should be about something I also feel is deserving of praise, should target an aspect of it (rather than being vague or general), and it should be limited. Overpraising becomes a problem, whether in public or private, because at there is a point at which I stop believing it. But praise that is targeted, descriptive, and shows the person paid attention, then that is praise I can accept.
    I also think that this fails to deal with giving general or negative feedback. As an introvert I do struggle with negative feedback. I also struggle with describing to others the best way to give less than positive feedback. It can’t always be positive because then I also stop believiung it.

  • Quiet Revolution

    Echoing your thoughts, Louise: “An environment of appreciation, encouragement and genuine feedback is healthy for all.” If you’re interested in learning how to give better feedback, this may resonate with you:

    • Louise

      Thanks. I appreciate your response.

  • Mary Branscombe

    The physical touch one is concerning, given the number of harassment issues in eg the technology industry

  • Fionnuala

    An interesting read and nice idea for an article. As an introvert, while I agree with most of these points, I am definitely an exception to the rule that introverts are uncomfortable with being praised publicly. I feel that I do my job very well but quietly, and I don’t self-promote – for this reason I sometimes feel my hard work goes unnoticed (I know I shouldn’t care about this but I do!) – so I’m all for receiving public praise even if it’s a bit embarrassing…maybe I’m an introvert but I have a bit of an ego too!

  • Robyn Wells

    I appreciate when a boss seeks my input but not in front of other people. The one act of appreciation I didn’t see, which is my preference: having faith in me to do my job – then let me do it. For me this is the best act of appreciation. The others suggestions above are uncomfortable to me.

  • disqus_RiBebKv4V3

    While I am a very introverted person, I much rather be taken aside and/or be given appreciation that way. I do not like to be pointed out in a group of people. I get soo very embarrassed and want to head out via the nearest exit door.

  • Quiet Revolution

    What’s your preferred language of appreciation?

    • John Hopper

      genuine and specific praise delivered to me personally, and genuinely meant…it is a huge motivator.