From The Straits Times    |

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Have you ever bought a colleague a gift as a small token of appreciation only for them to refuse it vehemently? Or perhaps you’ve tried to give encouragement to a colleague by patting them on the shoulder, only for them to shrink away.

Just like in personal relationships, it’s important to understand how people prefer to give and receive appreciation at work. This is where workplace love languages come in.

Workplace love languages can help us understand how individuals like to be recognized and supported in professional settings. By acknowledging and respecting these preferences, organisations can create a culture of respect and appreciation.

Whether you’re a manager aiming to build a cohesive team or an employee looking to improve your work connections, understanding workplace love languages can make a real difference.

In this edition of Ask the Expert, Jason Wee answers everything you need to know about workplace love languages.

Recently, when I expressed gratitude to my colleague by giving her a cake for helping me with a task, she declined vehemently. I later learnt that she values words of affirmation, so an appreciative text or note would probably have been better received. How can identifying and understanding our colleagues’ love languages contribute to improving workplace interactions?

In his 1992 book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts, author Gary Chapman discovered that effective communication relied on the five fundamental types of love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

Chapman’s insights extend beyond romantic love, applying to all types of relationships. The five languages of love can be used in our day-to-day communication, and in building better relationships with our colleagues.

Out of these, there is at least one primary language that appeals to an individual. We are all special in our own ways, and we have different needs. Some people appreciate words of affirmation better, while others may prefer quality time.

Moreover, the concept of love languages is not solely about understanding the receiver’s preferences; it also encompasses how the giver expresses love. Understanding love languages in the workplace can also help to enhance communication, teamwork and trust.

How does understanding one’s love language help build better relationships in the workplace?

The more you are able to exercise these communication techniques, the more likely it might be that you would be able to build sustainable and strong working relationships with your colleagues. Everyone is different, so observe and communicate openly to understand what resonates with each individual. Pay attention to your colleague’s preferences, and their behaviours and actions. Notice how they express appreciation and what energises them at work.

How can we accommodate for different languages of love in the workplace?

WORDS OF AFFIRMATION: We often carry out our tasks without knowing exactly how we have fared. But we do know that our self-esteem and confidence will eventually start to wither when we receive more criticisms than compliments. This shows that we all need regular encouragement for the great work we have done, no matter how small they are.

Some may say that it is our job to perform well. However, humans in general need social approval besides monetary gains. This form of recognition should continually be rewarded if an organization wants its employees to grow, be motivated, and be engaged. Words of affirmation let us know that we are doing a good job and through this, we would feel inclined to do better every day.

When was the last time you walked up or send a message to your team member praising them for a job well done? If you have not done so for the past couple of weeks, what are you waiting for?

QUALITY TIME: Spending quality time is another important aspect of building lasting relationships, but many of us neglect this aspect by getting too caught up in the mad rush of work. There are some whom I know who do not spend enough time with their bosses and vice versa and this resulted in poor communication, misunderstanding, and unnecessary assumptions.

Building a strong relationship means getting to know one another so that we can support each other better. No man is an island – as social creatures, we need to spend quality time with each other so that we can build cohesive teams.

You can start spending quality time by moving away from the tick-in-the-box Performance Management exercise to having conversations like asking how the work was carried out and the experience the employee had as they journeyed through the course of the work. The goal here is to keep the conversation alive. Team engagement activities like team lunches, team building sessions, and learning as a team brings a higher level of communication and that makes quality time count.

What is your picture of an engaged team and how would you make quality time to bring out the best of your work relationships?

RECEIVING GIFTS: Some might think that giving gifts would mean spending lots of money but simple gifts such as a greeting card or a bookmark penned with personal words of appreciation do warm the heart. I recalled a colleague who had done marvelous work for the team, received a white mug with team signatures and words of praise all written over it. That simple gift and recognition had made her day.

Sometimes, giving gifts does not have to tie in with any achievement or celebration. You can still offer a gift just to appreciate the person for being there. Baking a cake and sharing it with the people around is also considered as giving gifts. The ideas are endless; it’s the thought that count.

Do you know of anyone you can give a gift to? How would you give it and what would you say?

ACTS OF SERVICE: Everyone loves helpful gestures, especially in times of need. Acts of service come in many different forms. From helping a busy colleague to get food, driving your employee home knowing they are not feeling well, or just listening to a friend’s day at work and being a sounding board. Acts of service are usually seen as going out of your way in extending a hand so that people can continue to breathe.

Acts of service do not have to be a burden. It can be managed with the things that you are already doing. For example, cooking a little more to share with your colleague, dropping your colleague off at the nearest train station as you head on home, collecting colleagues’ mail or packages as you make your way to collect your own, announcing to the people around you that you are getting things from the nearby store and ask if you can help to get their stuff along the way.

What acts of service would you like to do for your friends and colleagues? How can you help them better walk through their career journey? Sometimes, asking would be a good start.

PHYSICAL TOUCH: Physical touch implies many meanings. It can mean shaking of hands, fist bumps, High 5s, a light touch on the shoulder to say “Thank you” and hugs. Some people are averse to such contact and we need to be mindful and ensure that our attempts are not misinterpreted as sexual harassment. Be aware of culture, in some places hugs might seem to be a norm but they might not be well received elsewhere.

Touch is a very important aspect of growth. Just like children who develop a healthy level of self-esteem with the right amount of touch, adults too become motivated and confident when they receive an appropriate level of supportive contact.

When was the last time you gave your peers, manager, or a team member a “High 5”? What opportunities would you see that you can use fist bumps to congratulate someone?

Jason Wee has over 15 years of experience in talent management, executive coaching and consulting in leadership and team development. He is currently the director of Consulting, Learning and Organization Development at talent advisory and consulting firm Ppearl.