Applying Love Languages

Feb. 25, 2023


“And now these three remain:  faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13: 13


As this short month draws to a close and we soon look ahead to plants blossoming and grass greening many places, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been since last week that we celebrated the traditional day of love, Valentine’s Day.  I thought I did pretty good:  flowers, a card, a lovely dinner.  And we did have a lovely evening.  I was especially encouraged that day that by the time I made my card selection, the aisle was nearly devoid of choice on the “wife” side, whereas options on the “husband” shelves remained abundant.  Good job guys!


It’s been more than 30 years since Gary Chapman authored “The Five Love Languages:  How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.”  Primarily styled for marriages, Chapman categorizes these expressions into acts of service, gift giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation.  The author suggests that to discover another person’s love language, we must first observe the way they express love to others and analyze what they complain about most often and what they request from their significant other most often.  He goes on to theorize that people tend to naturally give love in the way that they prefer to receive love, and better communication between couples can be accomplished when one can demonstrate caring to the other person in the love language the recipient understands.


An example would be if a husband’s love language is acts of service, he may be confused when he does the laundry and his wife does not perceive that as an act of love, viewing it as simply performing household duties because the love language she comprehends is words of affirmation (such as “I love you.”).  She may try to use what she values, words of affirmation, to express her love to him, which he would not value as much as she does.  Conversely, if she were to mow the lawn for him, bingo!


As I thought more about love languages, I realized that the application goes beyond relationship with our significant other and relates well too to children, friends, and co-workers.  In fact, several years later Chapman authored a book entitled “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.”  I note the “turn a phrase” from love to appreciation in the latter publication.  The workplace would seem to have a hang up about love, aligning it with sexual fraternization I would presume, but that’s a dive for another time. 


I did think back to my days as a Human Resources Director in a large organization and re-examined how these tenets may have been applied.  The first step was learning enough about a co-worker to exercise the tool.


I’ve written before about one employee in the past who I found out loathed spoken praise, public or private.  The “gold stars” and “atta-a-girls” on performance evaluations provoked embarrassment and discomfort.  Instead, quality time in the form of one-on-one engagement discussing outdoor recreation or an upcoming music festival brought connection and commonality.  It was a valuable lesson learned.


Simple, spontaneous, unelaborate celebrations not only marked milestones achieved, but tended to be comfortable and unpretentious occasions for all.  One of the joys of living in the Midwest was a frozen custard treat and no two names of that delectable delicacy were more synonymous than St. Louis and Ted Drewes.  In my last assignment there I would make a run to pick up some cartons three or four times a year and call a staff break for frozen custard, toppings, and a bit of community.  For those who relished the expression of unexpected gifts it was a highly valued indulgence.


Words of affirmation are powerful.  For me personally, it is my love language.  Undoubtedly it was one of the reasons I adopted this practice; looking back I regret not having done it more.  Although there were stellar performance evaluations and awards of merit to be doled out, it was neither of these decorations that were most meaningful.  In this era of texts and emails few things are more appreciated than the thought and simplicity of a handwritten note of thanks and acknowledgement.  Even more potent was when those messages were stamped and mailed to the employee’s home.  Few things as a leader gave me more joy than visualizing an employee opening that jotting and sharing with their family their achievement and accolade. 


Though physical touch can be tricky in workplaces, much the same effect can be achieved through non-verbal expression.  A smile, a look of concern, aid to someone who is physically challenged are all gestures that convey warmth, caring, and compassion. 


Finally, acts of service come naturally to nearly each of us.  And they can come in ways most unexpected.  In that same workplace in St. Louis there was a young man who profusely thanked me for providing moral direction to him on an issue of significant importance.  Quite frankly I do not recall ever communicating to him what was alleged.  Nonetheless I will always relish his speaking out his own words of affirmation and taking his quality time to provide his act of service to me.


The Seed Sower