You’re speaking my language

The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime (Gettysburg College). That’s about a third of your life. For those of us lucky enough to have a job (almost 30% of South Africans are currently unemployed), that means you will probably spend more time with your colleagues than your family.

By Tricia Jones, founder of Capacity Builder

So, in many ways, your relationship with your co-workers is a lot like a marriage – a psychological contract of commitment is signed, you spend every day with them, they see you under pressure, looking your best and worst. Why then, don’t we handle this relationship with more care? In this article, I look at the famous Love Languages and how they can be applied in the workplace, without overstepping any boundaries.

But… why?
Studies have shown that if a boss, manager, or employer can adequately foster and cultivate a positive, healthy, and happy work environment, “team members will seamlessly work together, be more productive, and more engaged, therefore helping the business or company as a whole” (Hassell). And according to this study, it just so happens that positive atmospheres in the workplace and high productivity is determined by the level of appreciation that you show someone or that someone shows you. All the more reason to learn the language of appreciation.

The overarching issue when it comes to Love Languages, or should we say Appreciation Languages, is that many people feel unappreciated, because they are looking to receive recognition in the language they have been raised to give and receive.

Languages are how we humans make meaning of the world and communicate our internal world to the external one. Just like actual languages, every person learns dialects and slang depending on where they grow up. It’s important to remember that each person is unique and therefore requires unique acts of appreciation. The plus side to this is that people will often show appreciation in the language they wish to receive it. So, keep your eyes and ears open.

Applying it in the workplace

1. Words of affirmation: Chapman states that “one way to express love emotionally is to use words that build you up. Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love. They are best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation”. In the workplace, this simply means that you can instil confidence in people by verbally affirming them. Keep it simple; sentences like “thank you for your efforts with the presentation” or “that’s a really great insight” are good examples. Don’t limit yourself – words of affirmation can be done face-to-face, over an e-mail, in front of the whole office or over social media.

2. Quality time: This language is mainly centred around giving someone your undivided attention. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the people you work with are generally interested and invested in you and how you contribute to the overall success of the business? Simple (and cheap) acts of quality time include checking in with someone at their desk or sitting together during lunchtime. Another suggestion, for leaders specifically, includes a ‘mug and muffin’ with each team member with no objectives other than to get to know them a little better through dedicated and uninterrupted time on a regular basis. (Sort of like date night... but at work).

3. Acts of Service: For people who identify with this appreciation language, actions speak louder than words. Words of affirmation mean nothing if a person is actually seeking help and mentorship in order to feel valued and appreciated. Start by asking “What can I do to help?” and offer them your knowledge or even better – a helping hand. Noticing is the first ‘act of service’, take note of when colleagues are taking strain and bring them a cup of coffee or offer to take something off their desk or prepare their lunch for them.

4. Gift Giving: Some people respond very well to the act of gift giving and will almost certainly always be the type of person who gives out gifts as a token of their love and appreciation. According to Duron, many people enjoy receiving gifts, but it is also important to ensure that the person giving the gift to a co-worker gives a gift that “the person values in their life outside of work, like a jersey of their favourite sports team or a coffee mug with their favourite cartoon character on it”. One of the most common gifts to give in the workplace includes food or a simple cup of coffee. Another creative office “gift” is giving someone some well-deserved time off or sending them home early to pick up the kids. It’s not really about the size or expense of the gift either... it’s more about the token/gesture itself.

5. Physical touch: This appreciation language can be tricky in the workplace, but this doesn’t mean it should be completely ignored. Duron mentions some really good examples that are office-friendly and won’t lead to any harassment charges: “Some members respond well to physical touch, like high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps and pats on the back. You’ll see this in sports, but it also translates well to the work environment”. This also works as a great success anchor. High fiving a colleague who does a good job makes them feel good. At the same time, the action of the high five anchors the feeling to the action. So, every time you high five them afterwards, even for no reason, they’ll feel good. BONUS!

The trick with successfully speaking these languages, is that they “have to be communicated regularly, genuinely and based on the language the receiver responds to positively” (Duron).
It’s not enough to wait until performance evaluation week to convey gratitude; neither does it work if there’s a catch every time you praise someone’s efforts – appreciation, just like love, is only genuine if it is unconditional.

By Tricia Jones, founder of Capacity Builder