How Love Languages Can Help (Or Hurt) Your Professional Relationships

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professional relationship

How you establish professional relationships is a lot like how you fall in love.

So, it's not surprising that the application of Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages model to the workplace yields some interesting insights and utility.

RELATED: How To Prove Your Love Every Single Day, Based On The Five Love Languages

The Basics of Connection

All relationships are about connection. For instance, when you like the way someone talks, gestures, and interacts with you and other people, you're more inclined to connect and potentially form a deeper relationship. Generally, this is the case for both work or romantic partners.

True, in both contexts, you might click based on a very particular interest (e.g., specific professional subject matter or lust). However, this kind of attraction is more like a meeting of the minds (or bodies) than a personal connection.

To be successful in most work environments requires interaction with lots of people and participation in teams. In other words, the formation of many types of relationships. Since here we're talking about the workplace, generally, we'll focus on those broader connections.

And, this is where Love Languages come in. These languages refer to five basic ways a person prefers to give and receive expressions of love: through touch, gifts, words, quality time, and acts of service.

An individual's preference can include more than one expression, and it can change in different contexts or over time.

Chapman noticed his models' applicability to workplaces as well. Although, he recognized that expectations and boundaries in the two contexts differ.

I'd like to suggest, in addition, that the role and scope of gender and stature (e.g., manager and direct reports) differ as well. Let's take a look.

Unable to locate a study specifically on Languages of Acceptance and gender, I've had to extrapolate from the literature on Languages of Love. One simple survey of 2,300 U.S. participants suggests the most popular expression of love for both sexes is quality time.

However, women are more inclined than men to prefer quality time and acts of service, which is also time-based. A greater percentage of men than women preferred to touch and receive gifts.

RELATED: How To Use The 5 Love Languages To Your Advantage At Work

How Love Languages Can Affect Workplace Choices and Behaviors

To better appreciate the potential impact of Love Languages on workplace dynamics, let's look at two situations.

Physical Touch in the Workplace

Expression through touch is very different for men and women. Men shake hands, high-five, and give brisk pats on the back. Women, on the other hand, might semi-embrace or tap cheek-to-cheek.

For women, touching men can be inconvenient at a minimum, threatening, or even harmful in the extreme. Unfortunately, exhibiting their preferred touch language of embracing and touching cheeks with men is even more loaded and threatening. Overall, the handshake is apparently the most innocuous touch gesture.

And, according to neuroscience research, initiating social interaction with a firm, friendly handshake stimulates positive neurological impacts of approach while diminishing the negative impacts of avoidance.

Nevertheless, for many women, the handshake remains an awkward and conflictive gesture. Hence, these women may be less inclined than men to reap the benefits.

In addition, their resultant tentative and weak handshakes can be met with indifference instead of the intended engagement. If you're a woman and work with plenty of men, be sure your handshake projects what you intend.

The Desire for Quality Time and Acts of Service in the Workplace

According to the above study, quality time was preferred by almost half of the women compared to slightly more than one-third of the men. This could manifest in regularly and voluntarily sharing information, congenial participation in teamwork, socializing, and effectively using informal communication channels.

Women also express a stronger appreciation for acts of service. At work, this act could translate to sharing ideas, soliciting comments and advice, or appropriately asking for help when needed.

These behaviors all constitute strengths. However, a male supervisor, particularly one who is more introvertive or competitive, could judge a woman's behaviors and requests as indications that she lacks confidence and independence.

What's important to recognize is critical for the supervisor to accurately interpret what's driving his female staff's behaviors and requests.

How You Can Use Love Languages to Improve Working with Others

Of course, how you utilize your knowledge of Love Languages will depend on your position and types of relationships within the workplace.

Lots of people are simply unaware of their preferred language in their personal or professional lives, having never thought to assess it. More than likely, their perception of the others' preferences in either context is even more unlikely as a consequence. Hence, creating awareness is the first step.

Of course, the languages are unique to an individual. And, in fact, language preferences may not well represent the true diversity among your colleagues.

Consider whether the person or people with whom you engage hold beliefs or habits related to specific acts of acceptance. Age, position, gender, generation, and culture do play a significant role.

This may sound too complex and cumbersome to reasonably implement, but the idea is to be curious and open to others' perceptions and preferences as well as to the unexpected.

Using the basic principle of this model can create awareness. It should help you understand and positively engage with colleagues, supervisors, direct reports, and others within the workplace.

In addition, making your preferences known, whether directly or more subtly, enables others to better attend to your preferences as well.

For all involved, the feeling of being understood and accepted creates more-effective communication, a healthier work culture, increases engagement, and thus improves the likelihood of success.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Apply Your Love Language To Other Parts Of Your Life

Patricia Bonnard, PhD, ACC is a leadership and life coach, and energy healer. She blends conventional coaching, embodied practices, and energy healing in ways that best suit the needs and preferences of her clients. She offers virtual and in-person sessions, and workshops to workplaces and the general public. See more and contact her at Starchaser Integrated Coaching and Energy Healing.