Career Advice

The Case For Telling Your Boss Your Love Language

Gabrielle Kassel

Photo: Getty Images/The Rabbit Hole Pictures

“Oh my gosh, thank you for the compliment! Words of affirmation are my love language, so it means a lot.” That was my word-for-word response to an editor who sent a particularly complimentary ‘confirming receipt’ note for an article I had submitted. And in all of our correspondence since, she’s responded to every draft with a compliment—sometimes even two. I’ve since clued in nearly all of my editors (as a freelance journalist, I have many) to my love language, and can say from my experience, that there’s serious value in sharing your love language at work.

In the nearly six months since that initial love-language reveal, I’ve grown to feel more valued by editors than ever before, and I generally feel happier busting my ass for them. In fact, according to managers and mental-health professionals alike, there’s benefits to be had in sharing your love language at work with an employer.

Originally introduced in Gary Chapman’s best-selling 1992 book of the same name, the love languages are ways of communicating based on the different methods humans use to express and understand love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Below, learn how sharing your love language at work can be beneficial, plus how to actually do it. (Don’t know your love language? Take the official love-language quiz here.)

The value of sharing your love language at work

Clinical psychologist Melanie Chinchilla, PhD, founder of the Approach Therapy practice in San Francisco, says love languages are a useful tool for improving office or (virtual office) morale. “Feeling valued and appreciated can increase an employee’s motivations, and using employee love language to acknowledge hard work and show appreciation is an effective way to [convey appreciation].” She adds that when employees feel valued, they’re actually more likely to stay with the company, making it a total win-win.

“Feeling valued and appreciated can increase an employee’s motivations, and using employee love language to acknowledge hard work and show appreciation is an effective way to [convey appreciation].” —clinical psychologist Melanie Chinchilla, PhD

Concerned that your boss doesn’t want to know your love language, or that broaching the subject would be super-awkward? Certain factors—like your specific relationship with your boss, the size of your company, and your boss’s overall demeanor—may well play into how the conversation goes, but the below tips can help.

How to tell your boss your love language

1. Test the waters

Rather than outright sharing your love language as an FYI (which is what I did), Edgar Arroyo, president and founder of SJD Taxi shuttle service in Los Cabos, Mexico, recommends taking a softer approach. By mentioning that you recently took the love language test or recently read the book, you can gauge whether they’re interested in discussing it with you. “Their reaction will give you a hint about how open they would be to learning about your love language,” he says.

If, say, their eyes light up and they share how they’ve taken the quiz with their partner? You can confidently continue the conversation in confidence and share your love language with your manager.

2. Consider nixing the phrase “love language”

Would you use the phrases “cut and dry” or “hard ass” to describe your boss? If so, Samantha Caffrey, director of communications and public relations at fischerAppelt, Inc., suggests cutting the term ‘love language’ and instead making a very direct request.

In fact, even if your boss is super-friendly and casual, Dr. Chinchilla says this is an A+ approach. “Workplace discussions about love, physical affection, and spending quality time together may be misinterpreted,” she says. So if your boss is unfamiliar with love languages, and you don’t have time to provide context, navigating around the phrase may be helpful.

For instance, if your love language is words of affirmation like mine is, Caffrey suggests saying something along these lines: “I’ve noticed that you provide suggestions as to where I make mistakes and how I can improve them, which I appreciate for my growth. I would also love to hear the areas that I excel in so I can continue to hone in on those skills as well.” And if your love language is physical touch, you might say, “I’ve noticed that you occasionally bring your pup into the office. Would you be open to me bringing my therapy dog to the office every Friday? I’ve noticed I’m more productive when I have him on my lap.”

Both approaches allow the conversation to focus on your needs and setting up a future plan… without requiring that you say the term ‘love language’ even once.

3. Make it a two-way conversation

Managers like to feel appreciated just as much as the rest of us, says Caffrey. So “approach this as an opportunity to also learn your boss’s love language.”

Here’s what that might look like: “In my personal life, I started to incorporate love languages and I think incorporating it at work could be wonderful for morale. Would you be open to talking about what that might look like?”

Or, “I just wanted to let you know that it meant a lot to me when you bought me coffee after I completed that last project—gifts are my love language. I’d love to know what your love language is so I can properly thank you for a job well done, too.”

4. Explain the why

For your boss to want to go out of their way to show you appreciation based on your love language, they need to know why it’s worth their while. So, “be sure to vocalize that this new approach will allow you to work in an uplifted manner that will produce the very best results for the business,” says Caffrey. ‘Increased satisfaction’, ‘improved morale’, ‘boosted efficiency’, and ‘increased productivity’ are all good catchphrases to lean on, she says.

5. Suggest a book or group quiz!

Looking for a less-direct approach? If your workplace has a book club, Dr. Chinchilla recommends suggesting The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. “This book can provide a useful framework specific to workplace interactions and appreciation,” she says.

Another option is to suggest that your team takes the official love language assessment during the next group bonding event. It’s sure to get people talking about how love languages have a worthy spot at work.

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