The Workplace Love Languages To Know & Foster In Your Team

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What is life without love? And what is love without languages to express it? People have different ways of saying "I love you" without echoing those words. It can be an encouraging message on a bleak day or an extraordinary meal on an ordinary day. Overtly or covertly, there's no limit to how you can express love. However, according to the famous book "The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate" written by pastor Gary Chapman, albeit complex, love expressions can be summarized in five languages: words of confirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and gift giving. Chapman's theory of the five love languages is one of the most famous and oft-cited essential rules for healthy relationships. 

Like Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," Chapman's theory can be applied to various aspects of life. The love languages can and should be carried into an area that secretly needs it the most: workplaces. This idea might not ring true for work-from-life separatists, but the emotional culture has been proven to impact employees significantly. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, employees who feel loved in their working environment showed higher levels of contentment, physical health, productivity, and loyalty to the company. A little love can make a big difference in a dog-eat-dog world like the office. Here's how to use the love languages in the workplace to foster a culture of compassion in your team. 

Words of affirmation

Essentially, words of affirmation are uplifting words or compliments you use to encourage someone. For employees obsessed with productivity or prone to rust out, hearing words of affirmation is akin to earning work accolades, and it's like a pat on the back to help them realize they are seen and valued. 

If you're not the type of manager who wears your heart on your sleeve, you can offer words of affirmation when giving your employees feedback about their work, maybe in a weekly team meeting or performance review where you have a one-on-one talk with each employee. Aside from providing valuable insights into their performances, offer encouragement where you see fit. Or, whenever you see them making an extra effort to work on something, tell them in no uncertain terms that you're impressed. 

A simple "Good job!" or "Thank you for going the extra mile." Even if their present output falls short of your expectations, it's an excellent move to acknowledge their extra effort before pointing out what they can do to improve in the long run. When offering feedback, keep it constructive and informative. The ultimate agenda of feedback giving is to increase performance. It's hard to love what you do and achieve breakthroughs when your head is filled with criticism and self-doubts. Highlighting the areas people need to perform better in a constructive tone will motivate them to learn from their mistakes without reducing their morale. 

Quality time

Spending quality time with your colleagues can be as simple as checking in on them regularly and giving them undivided attention as they talk about their work challenges. When they're speaking, do not interrupt them or allow yourself to be distracted by anything else. Doing this will make them feel seen and heard.

Another way to participate in active listening, especially if you're a manager, is to give your reserved employee the floor in a group huddle. Many people, especially introverted ones or individuals who are not the team's stars, are uncomfortable expressing themselves in a group setting. By nudging them to speak up on a particular matter, you make them feel that their opinions matter and they're a part of the team's picture. When they feel that you care enough to create a judgment-free zone where everyone is included, they will feel encouraged to open up more about themselves and reach their full potential.

Every once in a while, incorporate some enjoyable team-building activities into everyone's daily working routine. For example, you and your team can gather to watch sports, go hiking, or have a pool party where you don't have to talk about work. 

Giving tangible gifts

It's not inappropriate to give your colleague a gift, especially when you think they deserve it. If you went through a huge crisis and your colleague was there for you the whole time, gift-giving might be the best way to express the full depth of your gratitude for them. The beauty of the act is not so much about the price of the gift but the fact that you appreciate them enough to take the time to get them something that would make their day on a sweet note. Plus, your gift doesn't have to be expensive. It can be your colleagues' favorite food or a pair of tickets to their favorite game. It's the thought that counts.

If it's your boss you're presenting a gift to, be careful about the timing. According to Burgette White, the vice president of human resources at staffing firm Adecco North America, giving your manager a pricey present just before your yearly performance review, for example, can look like you're trying to curry favor with your boss and put them in a dilemma. A bribe is a gift that makes people feel like they owe it to you. "It shouldn't be a costly or anxiety-inducing endeavor," White tells CNBC Make It.

Acts of service

In a working relationship, acts of service are as simple as chipping in to help your colleague get the job done. Stress is common in a modern, high-strung workplace, and a word of encouragement for a colleague struggling with workloads can go a long way. But if you want to go beyond scratching the surface of workplace compassion, offer practical acts of service that help alleviate their burdens. 

For instance, you can offer to fill in for them when they need to go on a vacation or share their workload if you see they're struggling with an overload. If you're a manager, you can take your team to lunch or dinner to ease the tension and bond over non-work conversations. If you can support your colleagues in a practical way, they will believe that you mean what you say, which will bring your relationship to the next level. 

However, check with your colleague to see what they need before chipping in to help. Offering unsolicited help can make you come across as micro-managing or encroaching on your co-worker's work. Before working on the task, ask your colleague how they want it done and ensure you do it in a way that meets your colleague's standard — nothing more, nothing less. It will make them feel they still have ownership over their work, and you don't want to take credit for that. 

Physical touch

Can you get physical at work? Yes — as long as you ensure you're not crossing personal boundaries. For instance, the rule of thumb when shaking hands in a professional context is not to hold it for more than three seconds lest it looks like you have unprofessional intentions. So what should you do when you want to express your appreciation for your colleague via touch? 

For a start, any touch that emits a sound is not alright. Cue Chandler Bing's butt-slapping boss and Joe's excessively physical girlfriend who loves to punch him to show love. Whether a touch is appropriate or not appropriate depends mainly on the context and the relationship between the persons involved. 

To avoid offending anyone, the conventional wisdom is to keep your physical interaction light and brief. "In general," says Jodi Smith, founder of the etiquette consulting firm Mannersmith (via Quartz), "shaking hands is okay; fist bumps, high fives—this is just hand-to-hand contact. A light tap on the shoulder, a quick pat on the back that's less than five seconds, those tend to be okay." At the same time, refrain from touching anyone on their hair and giving them a full-body embrace. If you want to hug your colleague, keep your touch to the shoulders without engaging the rest of the body, Smith advises. 

Conduct regular stay interviews

Although stay interviews are not a love language in a conventional sense, they make perfect sense in the corporate world. Stay interviews offer managers insight into why employees remain with their company, what would prompt them to leave, and what managers can do to best support their employees. The questions can be "What are the top five things you love about our company?" or "Is there anything I can do to support your career aspirations with the company?" The frequency of stay interviews might vary depending on the corporate culture of each organization, but they should be conducted at least once per year. 

By facilitating an open forum for two-way communication, you get to know your employees' expectations better, create positive changes in their work life, and improve retention rates. It's also an excellent way to keep the communication line open and ensure employees have what they need to thrive in their work environment. If every couple conducts a stay interview occasionally and works on the feedback sincerely, their mutual understanding will deepen, and their love life will improve significantly. 

Using love languages at work is a terrific way to strengthen your connections with coworkers and boost team spirit. And boost team morale, as long as you do it with a genuine heart. What comes from the heart — will reach the heart.