As an entrepreneurial business person, I have always pursued opportunities to transfer technology or share best practices across industries. When I was leading a liquid polymer business at Mobil Chemical in the early 2000’s, I worked with Procter & Gamble’s haircare division to reformulate its Pert Plus 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner with the synthetic base stocks in Mobil 1 engine oil. Who would have thought that the lubricants in motor oil technology could serve as the conditioning chaise in haircare?
Fast forward to 2017. Instead of heading a polymer business, I am now a professional coach, who looks to share best practices with individuals to increase their productivity and connectedness at work. My clients routinely ask me how they can better communicate and develop stronger relationships with their colleagues. Studies consistently show that when employees have positive working relationships, their increased happiness correlates with greater work success and outcomes (Foster & Auerbach, 2015).
When I coach and mentor couples on their relationships and marriages, I discuss the concept of the five love languages (Chapman, 2015). Conjuring up thoughts of technology transfer, I find this model as applicable in the workplace as it is in personal relationships. For those who may not be familiar with the five love languages or for those who have difficulty thinking of this concept applied in the work environment, I will explain how the love languages can help build stronger relationships by increasing understanding and likeability among colleagues.
Chapman (2015) proposes there are five primary love languages: (1) gifts, (2) words of affirmation, (3) acts of service, (4) physical touch, and (5) quality time. These words or phrases are relatively self-explanatory, but I encourage you to read the book for greater understanding and application. The premise is that people need at least some level of all five languages to feel loved, but everyone has 1-2 primary languages through which they feel the most loved. Although Chapman describes love languages in the context of personal relationships, I have personally found these concepts build connection and strengthen partnerships in the workplace.
How do you apply the love languages concept? Most likely it would be inappropriate or make coworkers uncomfortable to ask them to complete and share the results of the languages survey. However, someone who is educated in love languages, can usually figure out others’ primary languages through observation and experimentation. For example, if you observe a coworker beam when they are given a compliment or a recognition for a job well done, you might conclude that one of their top love languages is words of affirmation.
On the other hand, I know people who could care less to be privately or publicly recognized and prefer to receive money, physical rewards, or taken out for lunch. These people typically value gifts higher than words of affirmation. Coworkers, who appreciate acts of service, may feel more connected to you when you bring them a cup of coffee before initiating a conversation or offer to grab and bring them back lunch while they work on a project deadline. The gesture of serving drives likability and connection.
My primary languages are quality time and physical touch, so I naturally want to give a hug when I greet someone, touch a shoulder as I walk away, and schedule time to sit and talk without phone and social media interruption. However, I always adjust my behavior to honor others and company policies. For those who may be uncomfortable with physical touch in the workplace, a handshake suffices. Since my gift language is near zero, I would not suggest giving me a small birthday or holiday gift but ask me whether I can break free from my busy schedule to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on life.
Without the knowledge of love languages, people try to connect with others through the languages that primarily speak to them. Those who want to strengthen their connections will strive to understand their colleagues primary love languages and then intentionally act in ways that make them feel valued and comfortable. What are your primary love languages?
INSIGHT: When communicating with colleagues responsive to words of affirmation, words hold significant power. As much as words have the power to uplift, they can also more easily wound in the form of negativity and criticism.
Chapman, G. (2015). The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
Foster, S., & Auerbach, J. (2015). Positive Psychology in Coaching: Applying Science to Executive and Personal Coaching. Pismo Beach, CA: Executive College Press.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates specific workshops that address her clients’ business needs. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.