Have you ever tried to make someone feel appreciated at work and it backfired? You offered chocolates (because you like to receive gifts) and the recipient gave you a wierd look. You publicly complimented a colleague who then informed you they don’t need your help defending them.


This is a common misunderstanding asserts Gary Chapman, author the the 5 Love Languages series. Each person is internally wired to receive love in a preferred way AND expects the rest of the world to receive and express appreciation in the same way. Chapman applies these Love Languages to personal relationships and uses the term “love.”

Aren’t we also people at work?

Engaged Employees are People who Care and Feel Appreciated

According to a Deloitte study, employee engagement banks on trust in leadership, a humanistic entourage, an inclusive environment, and high learning (a.k.a. the opportunity to make mistakes and still be appreciated).

Factors of employee engagement

With a slight paradigm tweak, Love Language insights apply to any trusting relationship seeking open communication and mutual appreciation.

The MULTIPLE Love Languages

According to Chapman (who sold 11 million copies of his books translated in to 50 languages), love and appreciation are communicated in multiple and distinct ways. Everyone has a preferred Love Language.  Appreciation expressed in this favored language encourages connectivity and cooperation. Conversely, disproval communicated in this preferred language further distances the parties; greater effort is required to “retrieve” the one who received critique to regain their attention and to motivate them.

People often assume that every other person shares his same method of expressing appreciation. That mistaken belief creates a source of frustration. An Anglophone may not understand a colleague who converses in French, and the same disconnect can occur among people “speaking” different Love Languages.

According to Chapman, there are five ways communicate that they care

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Implications of Love Languages at Work

How could these varying modes of connection impact your and my life at work?

1. Awareness and understanding

As an Anglophone living in Paris, I come across very young French children who hear me speak English.  They turn to their parents and ask, “Why does she speak so funny? Is something wrong with her?”

That’s when these tykes discover the notion of foreign languages.

Before we gain the ability to decipher these Love Languages, it helps to know that they exist.

2. Self-awareness and expressing preferences

Maybe you feel unappreciated at work. As you discover the various Love Languages, you also uncover your preferences. Your newfound awareness allows you to encourage team members to recognize your contributions in a way that is most meaningful to you.

When come in with a smile and a box of chocolates, I feel that you recognize my contribution to our team. It means a lot to me.” (Love Language = Receiving Gifts. Read below for more details)

3. Creativity in communication styles

In an ideal world we might identify the Love Language of our team members (and family members) and communicate accordingly.

We live in a real world…and a global one at that.

To ensure comprehension among internationals, it is helpful to communicate the same thought in multiple ways. “What’s your goal?” followed by “Describe your ideal solution.”  Who knows, they might not understand your accent!

In the same way, expand your Love Language vocabulary; try using Words of Affirmation AND Acts of Service with the same person.  It won’t hurt them AND you will grow.

4. Personalized engagement

One employee (or boss) particularly challenges you? Spend some time observing them to discover their Love Language.  In the process, you will grow in empathy and understanding AND communicate more effectively.

Impact of Love Languages at Work

Let’s take a peak at each of these communication styles and identify how to apply them appropriately in the workplace. Some ideas you will find familiar; you’re doing them already.  Do you do so with every colleague or selectively?

What new approach would you like to adapt today?

Words of Affirmation

Everyone makes mistakes AND everyone does at least one thing right.  This language focuses on identifying and naming those strengths.

With a spouse it can sound like, “Honey, great job organizing this family outing. It’s so much fun.”

With a child, one could say, “You are reliable with your schoolwork. I really appreciate not having to check up on your homework all the time. You should be proud of yourself.”

And at work:

“Thanks to your timeliness in preparing the presentation we practiced well. It helped us speak fluidly in front of the customer and present our ASK with confidence.”

“You bring good humor to our meetings which stimulates creativity for everyone. You’re an asset to the team.”

Affirmation helps identify the conditions which favor success…which we can then replicate for continued growth.

Affirmation can also reduce the risk of a new challenge by helping the individual recognize a transferable skill.

“You are rigorous in ____ (type of work), I’m confident you can apply that rigor to move us forward in this new domain.”

Affirmation is more than non-committal phrases like “Good job.” “Great team.”  These provide candy to the ego yet lack the consistency to generate a vibrant sense of belonging and feeling of contribution.

Acts of Service

These big and small gestures demonstrate an intentional kindness for the benefit of another person.

At home it might mean taking on an extra chore when your partner comes home exhausted.

How about these for the office:

To help someone with a software or a technology issue

To connect people and smooth the way with an introductory email

To help to set up the conference room

To bring the morning coffee just the way you like it (with the two dashes of cinnamon and the squirt of honey)

To ask, “How can I help?”

Receiving Gifts

It’s the thought that counts, like showing that you thought of them when they were out of sight. The size of the gift matters less than the having a present to offer.

It could be a photo of the professional event you worked so hard to organize together. A print of the two of you together or an image sent specifically to them, especially if they cannot be there with you.

Does the person enjoy a delicacy with her/his coffee?

Stick a post-it message of encouragement on their screen as you pass by.

Quality Time

The key concept is TOGETHER.

Going for a coffee break together. Inviting a colleague to grab lunch just the two of you. Playing of the company soccer team.

What about an after-work outing? Be considerate. If your colleague has a family or other personal commitment, your offer may be taking quality time away from his loved ones!

Physical Touch

According to Chapman, most men express and receiving caring (and rejection) through physical touch.

Think of the hearty handshake, even a double-handed one.  Notice those paternalistic pats on the shoulder.

In a workplace, one can create a sense of physical connection without touching.

Sit on the same side of the desk

Secure eye contact


So….what’s YOUR Love Language? 

P.S. And when you get home, remember those Love Languages too!


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