How To Use the Right Words To Express Your Recognition

You would think that giving recognition to people was something pretty easy to do, right? 

Unfortunately, even if you get over the resistance and discomfort of recognizing people, there’s another challenge to overcome. That’s the challenge of expressing your recognition the best way possible. 

It doesn’t matter how you give your recognition. It could be verbally face-to-face, on the phone, or through videoconferencing. Then again, it might be by text-based, SMS, a handwritten card, or an electronic ecard. Whatever way you do it, I want to recommend that you put more time and care into how you say your recognition.

Your words could make or break the recognition you give people. I don’t think we fully realize the impact our words have on employees. Blogger and author, Rachel Wolchin, said, “Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”

I want you to examine more closely the type of vocabulary you use. Check out the phrasing of your recognition messages more carefully. 

Choice Of Words 

You look up a word in the dictionary, and you get the denotative meaning of a word. This is all about the main meaning of the word and does not include any feelings or ideas that people hold about that word.

Then you have connotative meanings behind words. Connotative meaning goes beyond the primary meaning of the word. Instead, it is what they suggested or associated with that word that inherently becomes the secondary meaning. 

Going along with this connotative meaning, realize that certain words have a positive association, others are negative, and some are even neutral. There are more negative emotional words (62 percent) than positive words (32 percent) in the English dictionary.   

One study shows that 50% of words from people’s working vocabulary are negative, only 30% are positive, and 20% are neutral. 

Here’s the impact of this concept on choosing the right words.

Too many people go around saying “good job” or “well done” and think they have just given fantastic recognition to a person.

But here’s how people perceive the connotative meaning behind such words. For example, the word “amazing” would be positive. The word “awful” is understandably negative. And the word “good,” that so many put together with “job,” is actually a neutral word with no positive clout at all. Saying “good job” is very much a neutral and unspecific statement.

I include a list below to help you develop a more positive vocabulary. 

  • absolutely. accepted. acclaimed. accomplish. accomplishment.
  • beaming. beautiful. believe. beneficial. bliss.
  • calm. celebrated. certain. champ. champion.
  • dazzling. delight. delightful. distinguished. divine.
  • earnest. easy. ecstatic. effective.
  • fabulous. fair. familiar. famous.
  • generous. genius. genuine. giving.
  • handsome. happy. harmonious. healing.

Stringing Those Words Together

Now you have a better understanding of the importance that individual words can have on people. I always recall the words of the late Mother Teresa who taught that, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

It’s important how you put positive words together to express your recognition to people. You can so easily create a weak and mediocre statement. And just as easily, you can express a heartwarming and memorable expression that means the world to someone.

Let me show you what I mean.

I have seen ecards and social recognition newsfeeds that never use the person’s name they are recognizing. Just because in the ecard process you select the person’s name doesn’t mean you cannot use it. Use the person’s name to start the experience of creating an emotional connection with them.

Don’t be boring and transactional with your statements. Instead, tell people things they did not already know about themselves, or they deny and bury within themselves. 

Get rid of the unspecific and neutral phrases that people commonly use. You need to share with people you are recognizing exactly what they have accomplished. And let them know how they have made a difference to everyone. Show them how they have affected other people by their positive actions. Put you into your recognition by giving a warm, personal message to the recognition recipient.

Case Example: Compare the following statements recognizing a milestone anniversary. Which is more meaningful? Does one create a more emotional connection with the recognition recipient than the other? Which one would you prefer to receive?

  • Example 1: “Congratulations on your 10th anniversary with XYZ Company!”
  • Example2: “Hi Jane, Congratulations on 10-years with XYZ Company! You have accomplished so much in your time here, and I want you to know how much we appreciate your continued contributions and successes.

    You should be very proud of all you have done at our special company. On behalf of our company and our clients, THANK YOU.


Take, for example, sending an employee a career milestone ecard on your online social recognition program. Follow the recommendations below to make your words more meaningful and memorable.

  • Make sure you personalize your recognition message by using the person’s name and greeting in the text box of the ecard or online.
  • Acknowledge the specific anniversary year with your organization and mention the organization’s name.
  • Find out if you have not been around a long time what the employee’s past contributions have been and recognize the individual for them.
  • Of course, recognize the individual for their present contributions that you are more familiar with.
  • Think about their positive qualities and attributes and thank the individual for all they do on behalf of the organization.
  • Where appropriate, thank the individual on behalf of the organization’s customers, clients, or patients that the individual has served.
  • Make your comments more personal by positively describing your connection with the recognition or award recipient.
  • Share your feelings with words that describe the positive benefits you or others have gained from working with the individual.
  • If you are adding a comment to someone else’s recognition message, don’t forget to use the person’s name in the comment to make that emotional connection.
  • Whatever the purpose of your message, whether celebration or expression of praise, acknowledge them again at the end.

These are just a few ways to help you use the right words to express your recognition. 

Recognition Reflection: Are you taking the time and care you need to express meaningful and memorable recognition to people?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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