The Language of (Professional) Love

Even if you’re not familiar with the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman, you’ve likely heard the concept. There are 5 main ways that people give and receive love in relationships, and differences in those ways are often at the core of any given communication issue.

The 5 Love Languages are:

1. Gift-giving

2. Quality time

3. Words of affirmation

4. Acts of service

5. Physical touch

A simple, clear conversation with a partner or family member can usually uncover how they prefer to give and receive love. A little bit of self-examination (frightening though the thought may be) can help you figure out your love language, too. For example, do you get the warm fuzzies when you receive a surprise gift from your significant other? Or do you not care much about gifts and prefer the opportunity to spend a day together? By considering what your partner does that brings you the greatest amount of joy, and vice versa, how you like to express affection to your partner, you’ll get to the core of what love language looks like to you.

Cute, you might be thinking to yourself, but I have a job to do. Or cute, but I have a company to run. And of course you do. You have a job to do, coworkers to deal with, a boss to handle, client relationships to manage, a business to run, crippling self-doubt to keep at bay (no, just me?) And you could probably be doing all of those things better. So let’s talk about how understanding and communicating your love language can improve the health of your professional life.

In the case of professional communication, the 5 love languages can essentially be transformed into the 5 appreciation languages. At some point in our careers, everyone has seethed with silent resentment. You stayed late, worked overtime and delivered on a huge project, only to have your efforts ignored. You came through in the clutch for a coworker and felt as though you didn’t even get a “thank you”. On the other side of things, maybe you tried to express appreciation to a coworker or employee and were met with indifference, or you just have absolutely no idea how to communicate with someone. Enter: Love language.

I’m increasingly convinced that, because it’s impossible for our work and home lives not to affect one another, overall happiness and wellbeing has to come from both places. Which means that how we think about personal and professional relationships should actually align a little more closely than we might think. Here’s a look at how the 5 love languages might translate in the workplace:

1. Gift-giving: Picking up a coffee and a croissant for a coworker or employee who’s been working long hours.

2. Quality time: Giving a co-worker or employee a break or an early leave-time in recognition of their work.

3. Words of affirmation: Telling someone they’ve done an excellent job.

4. Acts of service: Handling smaller tasks so a co-worker or employee can focus on something big coming up.

5. Physical touch: (hey now, let’s keep this one clean). A high-five or fist bump when a co-worker or employee has hit the mark.

That’s an easy demonstration of what each language looks like when it’s being given — so now take a look at the above and decide which one would make you feel best to receive. Are you the sort of person who needs to hear “thank you, great job”? Or is coming in the morning after a late night and finding your favorite coffee drink on your desk a bigger thank you? The greatest challenge after figuring out your love (appreciation) language then becomes communicating it. This is where things can get painful, because vulnerability and honesty are rearing their ugly heads again, and those two guys are the worst. Not only are we tasked with communicating our wants and needs in our personal lives, but now we have to do it in our professional lives too?

Well … yeah.

There are two ways this can go — either proactive or reactive. Proactive communication is easiest when you’re about to start a new gig or you’re having a review, because you can present your thoughts and preferences in an environment where it’s more expected. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of proudly proclaiming your love language to the professional world, then reactive might be the way to go. It’s as easy as thanking someone when they express appreciation to you using the language you like best. Your boss tells you “great job” and you respond with “Thanks, it really means a lot to me when you say that”. Or you get the go-ahead to leave early because you’ve been working long hours and you say “This is the best way to say thanks”. Affirming someone else when they use your love language is the simplest way to communicate to them that that’s how and when you feel most appreciated. Conversely, when you’re offering praise or thanks, pay close attention to how someone responds to it. Maybe you thought picking up that croissant would thrill your co-worker or employee and they didn’t really care. Well, it could be that all they really want to hear is “good job”, or get a high-five for closing the deal.

The bottom line here is that we all communicate differently, and the surest way to get our wires crossed is to assume that other people a) automatically know what we mean, and b) communicate the same way we do. But with a little bit of work and (gasp) self-reflection, we can all make things a little easier — and better — for ourselves and the people we work with every day.

Rachel PComment