What’s your love language in the workplace?



Don’t worry, there’s no hand-holding or telling your boss they look nice today.

You’ve likely heard of love languages. They’re the premise of Dr Gary Chapman’s 1992 book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, which outlines the five ways people express and experience love with their partner.

There’s a high possibility you’ve even forced your dinner party pals to take the quiz, despite being three wines deep and it being a terrible idea. Unsurprisingly it all goes horribly wrong, and your coupled-up friends start fighting across the table about how their lack of affection or inability to put the toilet seat down “suddenly makes sense”. Everyone leaves early and never speaks again.

Stay up to date on how to launch your career as a creative over at our Life section. 

But that’s a story for another time. Today we’re looking at how love languages spill over into our career and impact everything from our working style and how we handle criticism, to our relationships with colleagues and management. 

Following the success of The Five Love Languages, Gary and his psychologist and leadership trainer pal Dr Paul White co-wrote The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organisations by Encouraging People – a guidebook that helps people in positions of power “effectively communicate and encourage their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships between managers and employees, and decreased cases of burnout.” 

While the languages are the same as the original, don’t worry; there is no hand-holding, telling your boss they look nice today, or leaving gifts for no reason around the office. This advice is strictly work-appropriate – not to mention super helpful whether you’re a new leader (that has no idea what you’re doing) or an employee that wants to communicate more effectively with your managers (or colleagues, for that matter).

Words of affirmation 

If you’ve ever complained that you don’t get enough credit for your hard work, chances are you respond well to words of affirmation. And don’t we all? While most of us don’t need constant praise, a little recognition goes a long way. 

Dr Chapman says it’s important to congratulate staff for a job well done, either in a public setting (like thanking them in a team meeting) or personally (like sending them a private email after they nailed a presentation).

On the flipside, if you’re an employee and you don’t feel particularly comfortable giving your boss a pat on the back, compliments on character and personality are encouraged, too. In short? Be more observant and try to be a nicer human. 

Quality time

In your love life, this might look like a romantic dinner date or watching a movie together on a lazy Sunday arvo. Thankfully, the office version is a little different. 

Employees that value quality time just want to feel supported by their manager, so checking in on projects, suggesting regular catch-ups where they can raise any issues, and scheduling one on one meetings are all good places to start.

Give them your undivided attention and really listen to what they have to say. And for the love of God, stop checking your emails while they’re talking. As a team, you can introduce more quality time by arranging weekly off-site lunches, annual retreats or Friday drinks to celebrate a successful project.

Acts of service

Whether your boyfriend has cooked your favourite dinner after an especially shit day, or your colleague stays back to help you finish a project that has you sweating bullets, I think we can all agree actions speak louder than words. 

In terms of leadership, acts of service is simply viewing yourself as part of the team. You understand your role is to serve, and you sacrifice and work with your employees so you can all succeed and get ahead. In action, this might look like offering to help with a painful project, taking work off their plate and finding ways to make their role or day easier.  

If your boss seems to appreciate acts of service, encourage your team to work together, have the initiative to complete tasks or come up with new ideas that serve everyone (not just you). 

Tangible gifts 

Show me someone that doesn’t like gifts, and I’ll show you a liar. Funnily enough, receiving gifts is not the most common language – we all seem to prefer words of affirmation or acts of service (or maybe we’re faking it so we don’t look bad). 

When it comes to gifts, it’s not so much about the gift itself but the thought behind it, and this applies to the leadership love language, too. Think about how appreciative you’d be if you were running too late to grab a coffee, only to find your work bestie has one waiting on your desk? 

Whether you’re a boss or a staff member, tangible gifts are more about being observant and listening to what your coworkers like and don’t like, and keeping this intel in your back pocket for their birthday, work anniversary or when you draw them in Kris Kringle. 

Physical touch 

Ew, I know. Physical touch at work. Unless you have a secret crush on your boss, chances are the thought of this will make you vomit directly into your flat white. But when it comes to physical touch as an appreciation language, it’s not what you think. Quite the opposite, actually.

The general rule of thumb here is don’t touch anyone. However, if you have flat-out asked the person for their stance, and they’re open to physical appreciation, then you have some options. 

Dr White says there are both implicit and explicit touches. Implicit touches are subtle and offered in passing, like a high-five. Explicit touches, on the other hand, are more thought out – think a handshake, coupled with eye contact and some nice words. This combo is generally acceptable… unless your handshakes are floppy, in which case keep your hands to yourself and send them a complimentary email instead. 

Alyce is a contributing writer for Fashion Journal and the director and head writer at Bossy, a Melbourne-based copywriting and content studio. You can find Bossy here and here.

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