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The Love Language Concept

Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” is a must-read book for couples seeking a healthy, sustainable relationship.  Recently I’ve realized that this book that promotes maintaining healthy romantic relationships is applicable to an employer’s relationship with an employee, especially if you keep the romantic part out of it.

Here are the main concepts. We, humans, have five emotional needs or buckets that require filling. These five love languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation – for some people, words speak louder or just as loud as actions and praise.
  2. Quality Time – Who in a relationship has not been told, “We don’t spend enough quality time.”
  3. Receiving Gifts – Flowers, Chocolates, Jimmy Choos, Ferraris
  4. Acts of Service – Doing favors or chores for others.
  5. Physical Touch – This isn’t necessarily about what happens in the boudoir.  It’s like putting a hand on someone’s shoulder, holding hands, etc.

Chapman’s theory is that all of us seek emotional affirmation in a mix of many of the above emotional bucket fillers. Yet we all have a primary preference. Some of us value Words of Affirmation above all else, while others may value Quality Time or Receiving Gifts.

According to Chapman, the key to a healthy relationship is to have each mate understand and fill the emotional needs of the other. People tend to assume and project that the love language they value is the same as others and therefore treat their partner as they would like to be treated.

For instance, if I value words of affirmation, I might assume that my mate values the same, and therefore I would keep telling her how much I appreciate her.  There I go, all fat, dumb, and happy, thinking I’m filling her love tank and she’s feeling unappreciated because she values acts of service.  She’s smart and pretty enough to know that it’s easy for me to tell her how pretty and smart she is, so she’d rather I make the bed and take out the trash.

The theory is that if you understand each other’s emotional needs and keep each other’s love bucket full, you’ll continue with a healthy sustainable relationship.

Applying the Concept to Business

My experience tells me that this concept is just as important and applicable for managing a healthy relationship with one’s employees as it is in a romantic relationship.

Now for the professional relationship, let’s eliminate the physical touch need because that’s just creepy.  Employees don’t usually join a company to fulfill this need, and if they do, you are best served by leaving that bucket empty.  If you’re not running a massage parlor, you may be better off having employees craving physical contact at work self-select themselves out of a job.

That leaves us with these four items.

  1. Words of Affirmation – Recognize your team members privately and publicly. Do you recognize outstanding performance? Trophies, plaques, celebrations of accomplishments.
  2. Quality Time – Spending time with your team members to get to know them better, solicit their opinions and give and get feedback. Many times constructively kicking an employee in the tail achieves positive results.  Hey, people want to know they’re relevant and you care about them.  Even well-meaning negative feedback shows an employee they’re a part of the team.
  3. Receiving Gifts – When was the last time you gave an employee a coupon for a dinner for two or a bottle of Dom Perignon?  How do you reward the employee who stays up all night to meet a customer commitment?
  4. Acts of Service – Allowing the use of company equipment or vehicles. Allowing extra time off for personal situations like childbirth, family sickness, etc.  Pitch in to help employees in need.


Workers are no longer motivated by the carrot-and-stick techniques of the past.  The latest motivational research illustrates that money is not the prime motivator for conceptual workers (Daniel Pink – Drive).  Maintaining a culture that sustainably supports employee engagement is a function of the relationship between the employer and employee.

First, I’d like to suggest shifting your thinking from the old employer/employee mindset to that of a relationship between members of a team.

Second, you’ll get better results from your team if you understand and fulfill their emotional needs. The more successful you are at filling their needs, the more successful you will be at building a culture of high performance!

Want to talk about Love Languages and employee motivation techniques? Try a coaching complimentary coaching session.

Want to improve your odds of success as a leader? Want to get more than you thought possible out of your team? You can check out my new book, Intentional Leadership, available on Amazon, in Hardcover, Kindle, or Paperback by linking here.