In a conversation with a client a few months ago, I was reminded of the book 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. The client mentioned how he had used ideas from the book in his work. In the past, he had grappled with how to motivate an employee and said he realized that the 5 Languages of Love could help him determine what could motivate people in his organization.
Chapman contends that individuals speak and understand different emotional languages. They hold different opinions about how to communicate their love and, in turn, what makes them feel loved. The five emotional languages Chapman describes are: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gift Giving and Receiving, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. The following questions may give some clues about a person’s primary language: How do I express love to others? What do I request most often? What do I complain about? What do others do to show their love to me or to others?
That brief discussion with my client led me to look at the book again and to pursue the ideas a little more carefully. This morning, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I completed the 5 Languages of Love Personality Profile. The thirty questions ask readers to choose which of two behaviors is the greater indicator of love for them. In some cases, the questions ask which behavior one wishes a spouse or loved one would show.
I discovered that I lean toward Quality Time as an indicator of love, but all were nearly equally represented. I also found that responses may be as much an indication of the state of a relationship as about one’s own preferences. For example, the questions asking me what I would like my husband to do may tell as much about what he already does or does not do as they tell me about my own emotional preferences.
However, I also wanted to consider the point my client made. How do leaders motivate and build connections with people in their groups or organizations? Obviously, leaders must be very observant and open to building relationships. They can observe if individuals seem to respond well to words of affirmation or if they enjoy giving or receiving gifts. They can consider how much an individual takes time to do things for someone else.
Once a leader learns the primary languages of individuals, they can focus on speaking the preferred language using some of the following suggestions:
- Quality time – People who prefer this indicator of love want to share experience and communication. To meet this need, it is important to consider opportunities to share time together while being fully present with them. During this time, they should listen for emotions being expressed, put away cell phones and other gadgets and just be. Leaders can involve others in projects with them or simply take the time to ask questions about work, family or hobbies as they genuinely listen.
- Words of affirmation- People who thrive on affirmation want to hear and know that others love and appreciate them. For these individuals, affirmation is often more valuable then financial reward. Leaders can make special efforts to recognize what individuals do and thank them personally or in writing. They can be sure to recognize them publicly as they also realize that some individuals do not want public recognition.
- Receiving gifts – This can be tricky, but leaders can provide small and meaningful tokens of friendship or recognition. Giving gifts can cement relationships when a person values this trait.
- Acts of Service – Leaders should consider what they do for others. Frequently, this requires thinking about what could make a person’s job easier. When leaders serve others with generosity of spirit, they show they really care. For individuals who see this as a primary language of caring, it holds even greater meaning.
- Physical touch – For some, physical touch says, “I care.” This does not mean physical intimacy. In romantic relationships, physical touch also includes holding hands, hugging and simply putting an arm around someone’s shoulder. For leaders, touching a shoulder or shaking hands with real connection mean a lot.
These are all behaviors leaders should cultivate, but being aware of a person’s preference helps to strengthen relationships by focusing on the things that matter most to individuals. This attitude requires a willingness to give. It also requires leaders to be sensitive to when they could be going too far. However, learning a person’s primary emotional language and using it to bond relationships is valuable and worthwhile.
What are your thoughts about how to build relationships and how to speak the languages of love and leadership?
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This article first appeared Feb. 14, 2013. I have revised it slightly because it is still relevant. After writing the article, I discovered that Gary Chapman had also written 5 Languages of Appreciation (link to Amazon), which deals with some of the topics I mentioned below. You may want to look at both books I mentioned and take the personality survey.