The first time a friend asked me what my “love language” was, I thought they were prying into my sex life.
“Excuse me?” I balked, determined to keep my private life, well, private. Thankfully, she quickly explained: She didn’t care about my sex life (okay, ouch) but wanted to know which of the five Love Languages, as popularized in the 1992 bestseller The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, I identified with.
Um, okay. I recalled seeing this book at countless used bookstores, but had never taken it seriously. Wasn’t it just another wonky early-90’s joke of a self-help book? But then I started asking my other friends and family members about it, and it became clear that everyone else knew their love language. I was the one who was missing out! Missing a key piece of my inner puzzle! Probably ruining all of my relationships! This wasn’t good.
Suddenly, I found myself Googling in the middle of the night, asking my smartest friend, the internet, which love language fit my personality, identity and relationships. It was stressful, like finding out that no matter how hard I wished to be a Gryffindor, I would most accurately be sorted into Hufflepuff. Ok, it wasn’t quite that sad, because none of the five Love Languages are better or cooler than the others. I quickly learned that they are all just, well — personal.
Once I learned my love language, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Yes, in addition to being a Capricorn, an Enneagram Type 1, an extroverted introvert and a middle child, I was also a person who could identify “words of affirmation” as her official love language. If I were less scared or more rock ‘n roll, I might even get it tattooed on my body. My love language was another thing I could use to better my interpersonal relationships, to help create boundaries and to explain my weirdo personality.
Obviously, I didn’t keep my newfound love language knowledge to myself. In fact, I told everyone. Often. I wanted everyone to know my language, and I wanted to know theirs. I told myself that I was watching an extra episode of Schitt’s Creek because my partner’s language was “quality time,” and I decided that half of my teenage angst was related to not hearing words of affirmation about my outfit choices. (“Those capris are fine” is just not the same as “You look so cute in those capris and polo shirt,” right? Right.)
Knowing about the love languages helped my personal relationships, just like you would expect. I started to communicate better with my girlfriend. I understood where my mom was coming from. I was even able to strengthen friendships. But the place where the love languages helped the most, in a surprising twist, was my job. My day-to-day, 9-to-5 workplace.
Where else are we tasked with fostering dozens of relationships with people we barely know? Where else do we have to solve problems, finish projects and rely on others for our paycheck? We spend most of our days at work. Sometimes, we feel like we are our work. That’s a problem for another article, but for now, suffice it to say that knowing your love language can, in fact, improve your work relationships. Let’s review the five (because you were secretly hoping we would) and think about what they might look like in the workplace.
This one actually goes by a number of other names, including “long meetings,” “surprise meetings,” “never-ending email chain,” and “phone call that didn’t need to happen.” Sometimes, colleagues seem to snatch away all our work time with face-time and communication that might not seem necessary. However, when viewed as a love language, it becomes easier to give a little grace to those who value our time.
A coworker (or employee — or employer!) might need, more than anything else, a few extra minutes of meeting time, or a quick check-in phone call. Of course, there’s a difference between quality time and a time-suck, the difference being quality. Always keep that top-of-mind when indulging your coworkers need to re-discuss something or review information for the umpteenth time.
Words of affirmation
When I first realized this was my love language, my world didn’t change. It was when I shared it with people that I started seeing major results. Now, I say it in the interview. Yep, I’m a hard worker, a multitasker and a words-of-affirmation-needer.
In the workplace, words of affirmation look like verbal and written feedback. I need to be reminded when I’m doing a good job—and notified when I’m not. For people who value words of affirmation, it’s all about the words. From the quick, complimentary email to the detailed performance evaluation, it settles the heart to see words of affirmation from an employer or colleague.
Acts of service
Do you have a coworker who consistently asks for help on projects, even though you know she doesn’t need assistance? Or perhaps you know someone who is always the first to volunteer for an outside-of-work-hours event and the one who brings in a cake on birthdays. “Wow,” you think. “He’s such a giver.” The givers often live up to their titles, but they also appreciate when they see others doing acts of service. For the giver, you might offer to take that weekend shift every once in a while. Bring them a coffee in the morning or give them a hand on a project. Don’t worry, they’ll always return the favor. It’s their love language!
We all know that one person who is a natural gift-giver. They plan the work baby showers, leave presents for new hires, and organize the gifts on Administrative Professionals Day. What we don’t often realize is that gift-givers are deeply appreciative of gifts given to them. The smallest gestures are sometimes the most meaningful. If you know someone at work who likes giving and receiving gifts, you could avoid them (I have), but you could also try to embrace their love language. Thank them for always remembering birthdays. Give them an email shout-out for the holiday cookies they left in the break room. And when you have an extra coffee, notebook, or Target gift card… give it to them! They’ll appreciate it more than anyone else.
Generally, the workplace is not the place for physical touch. But there are always those coworkers who are huggers, hand-on-the-shoulder-ers, and high-fivers. That’s fine, but it can still make you uncomfortable. Luckily, part of knowing the love languages is giving yourself permission to create boundaries. So, Karen’s love language is touch — great! You can let her know that yours is quality time and that you are not a toucher. That way, she won’t be surprised when you don’t go in for the hug or high-five, and you won’t be endlessly annoyed at her physicality. That said, there is a major difference between the physical touch love language (high-fives, handshakes) and someone who needs to be reported to HR.
Today, the love language concept has grown into a small empire. There’s a website, podcasts, apps and over 40 related books. If you’re willing to pay, you can even board an Alaskan cruise with Gary Chapman, the author of the original book. It’s all… a lot. I prefer to be a casual consumer of the Love Language philosophy, but I have found that incorporating it into my work life has improved many of my work relationships. I am able to see why people have certain behaviors, and I am better equipped to discuss my own needs, wants and expectations. If you haven’t yet discovered your own love language — get to the internet, and take an online quiz. You know you’re curious.