By Gary D. Chapman and Paul E. White
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
Let me say at the outset that I was biased TOWARD this book before I even opened it. First, it was to discuss "languages," and all of my professional life I have taught, lectured, and written about the use of language. Second, it had to do with interpersonal communication — work relationships. My book on Understanding Interpersonal Communication (now out of print) went through seven editions. Third, it examined how to improve or human encounters — what effective communication is all about. Fourth, it treated workplace communication. In my book, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), I have a chapter on "Communicating Professionally . . .," which has continually received positive reviews. I am always in search of additional information with which to enhance that chapter and readers’ experiences with workplace communication.
It is not my normal form to mention my publications at the outset of a book review, but in this case, my biases were important for readers to understand prior to reading my review. I wanted to like this book a lot before turning the first page!
I have not read any of the books in Gary Chapman’s "five languages" series, thus, I have had no previous experience with his ideas. When I read about the five appreciation languages (words of affirmation, tangible gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch) my first impression was: This is common sense. There is nothing here that a sensitive, concerned, open, expressive, responsive, and aware person would not already know — and, to be honest, would not already be practicing. But that may, indeed, be the key: Utilizing the five appreciation languages may be the way for those who are not sensitive, concerned, open, expressive, responsive, and aware, to become so or . . . more so.
Like many other self-help books, it is unlikely that those who need this information the most will read it. How likely is it that an insensitive, unconcerned, closed, non-expressive, unresponsive, and unaware person would find or be led to this book? And, what’s more, if led to it, would consider him- or herself in need of this information? Unlikely, to be sure.
The examples used throughout the book are useful and interesting.
The MBA (Motivating by Appreciation) Inventory is a handy, well-conceived tool. What I find most interesting is that the idea that any person has a single preferred way of either receiving or giving appreciation, to me, begs a more important question: To what extent is giving (or receiving) appreciation situation specific? I would think, just as an outside observer, that the kind of appreciation I would give (or receive) would depend entirely on the situation I was in, the person who was either delivering the appreciation or the person to whom appreciation was to be expressed, the degree of need I experienced, the other people involved, whether or not I was being observed, how much credit or appreciation I thought I deserved, and, probably, a fair number of other variables. It’s a little like assessing — or trying to interpret — nonverbal communication. You cannot do it exempt of the circumstances in which it occurs.
The authors contend that "each individual has a primary language of appreciation. Speak that language and they will feel appreciated. Fail to speak that language and they will not feel appreciated" (p. 117). How about expressing appreciation in a wide variety of different modes? In that way 1) if one way misses the mark, another will likely hit it, and 2) one mode of appreciation will skillfully and aptly reinforce, buttress, fortify, and bolster up the others. A person would quickly come to know and understand exactly how much appreciation was being expressed.
I think the alternatives to the MBA Inventory are excellent suggestions for improving communication: 1) Observe their (coworkers’) behavior, 2) Observe what they request of others, and 3) Listen to their complaints. (Pp. 121-123)
I liked the book, but I thought it wasn’t totally necessary; and I missed having an index. I thought there was a great deal of padding once the basic appreciation languages were described and the MBA was explained. Many of the additional application chapters just seemed repetitive and could have been grouped, summarized, and shortened.