Using Love Languages as a People Manager 💚

One of my favorite relationship frameworks is The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In short, Love Languages are different ways to express and receive love. The key insight from Chapman’s work is everyone prefers to receive love differently. Knowing the love language of the person to whom you are expressing love allows you to communicate in a way that will be most well received.

While Chapman’s work was originally tailored for romantic relationships, I have found the insights are also useful for work relationships, particularly between people managers and their reports, where love == appreciation (related: Chapman wrote a book about Love Languages in the workplace if you are interested in a deep dive).

Research shows that expressing appreciation boosts performance. According to HBR:

Adam Grant and Francesca Gino have found that when people experience gratitude from their manager, they’re more productive. Another researcher recently found that teams perform tasks better when their members believe that their colleagues respect and appreciate them.

I believe that the most important attribute of a great manager is caring about your reports. Caring managers take the time to get to know an individual’s aspirations, strengths, and opportunities for growth. Caring managers also take the time to express appreciation for their reports’ efforts. Understanding, and expressing appreciation in, someone’s love language allows managers to show personalized care.

What are the love languages and how can I apply them as a people manager? 🤓

While there are five love languages, I’m going to leave “physical touch” to romantic relationships for obvious reasons.

Words of Affirmation

What is it?

People who prefer words of affirmation most appreciate verbal and written acknowledgements of appreciation and encouragement.

How can you express appreciation in this language?

  • Give in person, realtime appreciation for a job well done.
  • Listen actively and empathize with expressed feelings.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note after a major accomplishment.
  • Spend extra time on formal feedback, ensuring write-ups are comprehensive, thoughtful and personalized.

Acts of Service

What is it?

People who prefer acts of service believe actions speak louder than words. They most appreciate when someone goes out of their way to make their lives easier.

How can you express appreciation in this language?

  • Proactively remove a roadblock impeding their work.
  • Fight for a higher rating, extra raise, bonus, or early promotion.
  • Suggest a conference or class that could benefit them.
  • Offer flexibility in work schedules and encourage them to take time off for important events (eg, election day or their birthday).

Quality Time

What is it?

People who prefer quality time appreciate when their manager carves out time for them.

How can you express appreciation in this language?

  • Stop by to say hello in the morning (or check-in over chat while WFH).
  • Never cancel 1:1s (and don’t be late).
  • Go for a coffee or a meal.
  • Carve out separate time beyond scheduled 1:1s to discuss career and life aspirations.

Receiving Gifts

What is it?

People who prefer receiving gifts appreciate visual symbols of appreciation. These gifts don’t have to be expensive. In fact, small, thoughtful gifts are often the most resonant.

How can you express appreciation in this language?

  • Give a book related to a skill the person is trying to build.
  • Give a small gift related to a hobby or interest (eg, a bag of coffee beans for the coffee lover or a s’mores kit for someone with a sweet tooth).
  • Give a desk plant (I prefer to give a Snake Plant because they are easy to take care of).

Love Languages, IRL 🤩

I was struggling to form an effective relationship with a new report. Additionally, she was struggling to onboard to the company. After a few frustrating 1:1s, she told me she was considering going back to her old job. Genuinely wanting her to be successful, I carved out additional time to walk her through the Love Languages framework and found out her language is quality time. With this new insight, I asked her to give the role a few more weeks and extended our weekly 1:1s to an hour. We used the extra time to really dig into her frustrations and struggles. As a result, our relationship improved dramatically, and she ended up growing into one of the top performers on the team.

How do you figure out someone’s love language? 🎯

I generally just ask. A lot of people already know or can quickly figure it out by hearing the options. Alternatively, encourage your team to take the quiz and share with each other.

What should I watch out for when utilizing Love Languages? 🤔

Two common pitfalls are:

  1. Expressing appreciation in your love language instead of the recipient’s love language
  2. Assuming someone doesn’t care about you because they aren’t expressing appreciation in your language.

Relationships often struggle for these reasons. Employing the Love Languages framework most successfully is a two-way street where both parties understand each other’s languages and know the right way to utilize that knowledge.

Note: while most people relate to most of the love languages, almost everyone has a language that speaks to them most clearly.

If you’ve been struggling to connect with a report recently, try asking them their love language and then expressing appreciation in their preferred language for a few weeks. You might be surprised by the improvement in both your relationship and their overall productivity.

Thank you to Sunita Mohanty, Paola Mariselli, Alessia Antonucci, Julia Lipton, and Emilie Haskell for your help with this post 🙏

Celebrity animal aficionado. @UVA Wahoo.

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