Gary Chapman has written a very successful and well-known series of books about love in marriage and families. The first, The Five Love Languages, introduced the concept that people give and experience love in one of five distinct ways. Although people may use and enjoy them all, most people speak with one preferred love language and often feel most valued when others speak their language. Chapman encourages people to discover their loved ones’ languages and learn to speak to them in those preferred languages.
The five love languages, as outlined by Chapman, are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. He has adapted the book for kids, teenagers, and more, but so far he has not brought his ideas about love languages into the business world.
Some of the languages translate easily for work. That words of affirmation can be used at work is the most obvious to me.
People who enjoy experiencing love expressed through words of affirmation will appreciate—or perhaps even depend on —hearing words of praise from their supervisors. Or, people who speak love most easily through words may be those people who at work who are always encouraging others with words, both spoken and written.
Within the confines of professional appropriateness, some of the other love languages work also.
- Is there someone at your office who is always bringing in baked goods or who keeps a jar of candy or gum to share? She may express affection most easily through gifts. Or, someone who seems extra motivated by work incentives/rewards may prefer the love language of receiving gifts. “Hey – I don’t care what the boss says as long as I get my bonus.”
- Do you have an employee who always wants to schedule time to talk with you? He may prefer quality time.
- Are you the person who shows up at work early, preparing for the day: the one who cleans up the kitchen, takes out the trash, or offers to clean up after a lunch meeting? You may speak the language of acts of service.
Speaking the language of physical touch seems problematic at work. Some people may enjoy a hug, fist bump, high five, pat on the back, or hand squeeze (I do!) but some for some people, it’s just not welcome. And some others may misinterpret physical affection.
Overall, though, I think Gary Chapman’s love languages are a helpful paradigm for leaders who want to relate more effectively to their employees. Understanding a person’s preferred style for giving and receiving affection will help a leader relate in way that build relationships more quickly.
Tell me something! Do you think the love languages can be translated for professional settings? What works? What doesn’t? How have you seen these concepts applied at work? What benefits would you see to integrating these ideas at work.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
Find a Common Language
I will be returning our ongoing series, “Increasing your Influence as a Blogger” very soon. However, the idea from this post came from a recent visit to my new team in Indianapolis. While traveling, I thought a lot about how love is expressed in professional settings. I saw love expressed on our team in a variety of ways and I very much appreciate this new opportunity to work with such warm, inviting, and affirming people.
I am the founder/CEO of the Weaving Influence team, the author of Reach: Creating the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book, or Cause, and the host of the Book Marketing Action Podcast. I’m a wife and mom of three kids, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, coffee, and dark chocolate.
Physical affection is a “funny” one. To this day, people I work with that are women (be they colleague, partner, client or supplier) I always feel so cold greeting them with a handshake in a professional environment, yet when in a different context we always hug (as in meet outside of work). It is nerve wrecking as I never know whether others would think it inappropriate to hug when we meet in a business context. I am not sure where that conflict comes from but good thing is my friends find me amusing as they often tell me they can see the “fumble” on my face on approach. Yet I never feel at risk to give a hearty handshake with another man in a work context. What is that about?
I agree there can be awkward moments with that decision… to hug, or not to hug. I tend to take cues from those around me. When I first met one of my colleagues at the university, she initiated a hug. Another colleague offered her hand. Everyone has a different comfort level with personal space and distance, and I imagine there are cultural differences as well.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
This moves the workplace into dangerous territory for me… there are too many opportunities for mis directed communication without intorducing another language – love.
I agree that knowing how things like affirmation and service impact others can make you a better team mate… but I’m leaving the Love Language at home.
Paul — to be clear, you’re saying that love — the word itself — has no place in the office? I am sure you are not alone in that opinion. It certainly makes sense to me. I am wondering if there is a way to phrase these same ideas in a way that DOES fit at work. If not love, what other term or phrase fits?
I looked at Chapman’s five points a little more and I don’t think Chapman would argue that they have a place in the workplace. I think there are better models for providing recognition in the workplace…
Great concept and article. As people have mentioned, there is a “comfort” level involved with showing or verbalizing affection in the work place. I for one, am not a big fan of the physical display in a work setting. However, I do believe that most people can do a better job of giving out accolades to their people. It has been my experience that even leaving a little sticky note of appreciation on someone’s desk can often bring about an increase in performance. Most people just want to be acknowledged and feel appreciated for their work. You make a excellent point, that we as leaders have to take the time to get to know our people to understand them better. That way we can apply different techniques to each of them to gain their best. Thank you for your time and excellent article.
At the end of the day, people want to feel appreciated, valued and considered. I think the word “love” may make some people uncomfortable in the workplace. But Chapman’s Love Languages work does have a place in the work environment. Because if the truth be told, many people leave or grow unhappy in their work because they don’t feel the “love” they need to thrive. Sometimes that may result in unhealthy interaction with colleagues or a lack of passion for the work.
Like I said, we all need it in and out of the office. It just looks a little different in certain places. Great perspective, Becky!
(Note: This comment is my way of showing you some “love”!)
I read the book a long time ago and also remember the idea of ’empty love tanks’. My thought about love at work – as eloquently expressed by Dan Cathy:
“You’ve got to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fed before you try to feed other people. You have to be speaking and leading from a wellspring of truth before you talk with your staff, not after. You can’t expect them to be the source of your energy.”