In 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman published “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate”. His book sparked a new way of thinking about love by outlining five ways to express and experience love that Chapman calls “Love Languages”. It was so wildly successful that it’s been a bestseller ever since and created many spin-off books, including one for the workplace, for children and even singles.
Why these languages are important
Think about the person you spend a lot of time with, your partner or your co-worker who you share an office with, or maybe even your roommate. How much easier would life be if you knew what they want, what they struggle with, and what makes them happy? How much easier would that make your life? Imagine if you didn’t have to guess each other’s expectations and needs. Think about that.
But what exactly are Love Languages and what do they mean?
Languages of Appreciation
Now, don’t be misled by the term “Love Languages”. Because these five different languages are applicable to all kinds of relationships in your life. You can think of them as languages of appreciation. Knowing how to pick the best one for each relationship that you have is going to help you create stronger bonds and fundamentally improve the way you interact with the people in your life.
In his book, Dr. Chapman writes how we all express our love differently. And that can be tricky for reasons that will become clear in a moment. But before we go there, here are Chapman’s five love languages:
Words of Affirmation
When this is your love language, you primarily use words to express your love and affirm the other person. And this works the other way around as well: words that others say to you matter A LOT.
“I love you”
“I trust you”
“You’re my best friend”
“You look great today!”
“You always make me laugh.”
Compliments and an “I love you” can go a long way, as these are the kind of words you need to say to the other person to make them feel valued. It is very important to be encouraging, supportive, and affirmative to build them up. On the other hand, negative or hurtful words can wound them and it could take them longer to forgive than others.
Acts of Service
People that speak this love language will use actions to show their love and affection. If your motto is “Actions speak louder than words”, this love language probably resonates with you.
An act of service can be cooking dinner, doing the grocery shopping, taking out the trash, or just helping your best friend practice for a job interview. They require some thought, time, and effort. And all of these things must be done with positivity and with the happiness and well-being of the other person in mind to be considered an expression of love. Actions done out of obligation and with a negative attitude don’t count.
Learn to recognize genuine Acts of Service, acknowledge them and be appreciative when they happen. When others speak this Love Language to you, words of affirmation also go a long way.
That doesn’t have to be a sports car or a luxury cruise. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost any money at all. The people that speak this love language will feel loved when they receive a gift, even if you’ve gone for a run through the park and came back with some flowers. Something as simple as picking up their favorite snack from the grocery store after a long day can make their entire week.
This Love Language is all about undivided attention. What these people value more than gifts, words or actions is plainly spending some dedicated quality time with the other person. No TV, no smartphones, or any other distractions. It doesn’t even matter that much what you’re doing. The fact that the other person is willing to give you all their attention is what matters.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t snuggle on the couch to watch a movie with your significant other; it just means that you need to make sure to go out of your way to dedicate time together without all of the other distractions. This creates comfort and trust, showing them that you care and want to be there.
And every time you cancel a date, postpone time or aren’t present when you need to be, it can be especially hurtful and disrespectful to them.
If we take this into a workplace scenario, and Quality Time is the language of your co-worker, then asking them to join you in the kitchen for a coffee, or spending your lunch break with them can mean more to them than any spoken praise or that box of donuts you brought in.
To people with this Love Language, nothing speaks louder than touch – touch that is appropriate to the situation, that is!
This doesn’t mean over-the-top PDA, but If Physical Touch is your partner’s primary Love Language, they will feel closer and safer in a relationship by holding hands, kissing, hugging, etc. And they will quickly feel unappreciated without physical contact. All the words and gifts in the world won’t change that.
How does that look like in the workplace or when hanging out with your best friend? Well, again it comes down to what’s appropriate in the situation. Kissing, holding hands and hugging is probably not the way to go here (just in case that’s what you were thinking)!
But what if you gave that co-worker an enthusiastic high-five after the presentation she just did? And your boss could get a solid handshake after he gave you some feedback on the project – maybe with an honest “I really appreciate you taking the time” thrown in for good measure.
I am guessing that while you were going through those love languages, you probably already identified with one or two of them. According to Dr. Chapman, everyone has a primary and a secondary love language.
BUT: While it’s helpful to know your own preference, it’s even more important to know that of your partner, your friend, or your co-worker. That way, you can communicate the appreciation that you feel for the people around you more effectively.
Now, with a romantic partner, this is fairly straight forward – you just have an open conversation about it. This is not always easy, but it’s worth it. Because when you’re not having effective communication around trust, value, and appreciation of the other person, we often see the communication breaks down, leading to some problems.
Understanding only one side can lead to conflict
The language that you speak is also the one you understand best. Let’s say you respond most to acts of service. But your partner’s primary love language is words of affirmation.
That could easily lead to misunderstandings. You might think “I’m doing all those things for him or her, and all I’m getting are just nice words. I mean come on, I’ve been working in the garden for hours and I cleaned the entire kitchen!”
While at the same time, your partner thinks: “All he or she does is work in the garden all day, and then he or she is busy in the kitchen. And not once did I hear an ‘I love you today’. Why’s that garden and the dishes so much more important than I am?”
By comprehending the Five Love Languages, you will no longer have to guess your partner’s expectations and needs, and instead, you will be able to show them love and appreciation in the way that they receive it best. Once you understand what is everyone’s language around you, and then feeding them exactly what they want, you will see your relationships improve immediately.
Once again, it comes down to adding value. Giving people attention, approval, and acceptance to add value to the world around us, and now you have five different ways to receive and deliver that value.
Finding someone’s language of affection when it’s not a romantic relationship
With a friend or co-worker that’s not so easy. Because let’s face it, it’s going to be a bit awkward if you sit your colleague down and ask him or her what their preferred love language is. So maybe don’t do that.
Instead, what you can do is look out for how they behave when they give you that metaphorical pad on the back for something that you did. One co-worker might walk up to you and compliment you on the great job that you did. And then there’s a good chance that their preferred love language is Words of Affirmation.
Another one might approach you after that killer presentation that you gave, and ask if you want to grab some drinks with the team after work – in which case, it might very well be quality time that they value. These are the little signals that we need to be paying closer attention to.
Love is about requests, not demands.
In his book, Dr. Chapman tells us love is about requests, not demands. How do you make those requests? First and foremost, you do the very things that you want to see from other people. You treat people in the way in which you want to be treated. That’s the first step.
Now, every once in a while it might be worth it to explicitly state how you would like to be treated – or “spoken to”. For example, you could tell your partner: “Thank you for bringing me those flowers. I know that this is how you like to show your love for me, and you have no idea how much that means to me – and the roses are gorgeous! Do you remember how my love language is quality time? So I’d really like to spend some time with you. How about we just go for a walk with you and talk about our day? Would you like that?”
(If your partner looks a bit confused at that point, feel free to send this to this blog post!)
Ok, now please don’t have that same conversation with your co-worker or boss. Trust me on this. What you can do in this situation is a little bit more subtle, and it’s a 2-step process:
Step 1: When they use your own love language, appreciate them for it: “Thank you so much for spending this lunch break with me. I know you have a lot on your plate, and this means a lot to me.
Step 2: If they get your love language wrong, correct them: “Thank you so much for your kind words! Now, can I get some serious high-fives here?”
Remember, mastering communication isn’t really about mastering. The mastery is that you are willing to own your issues and want to get better.