One mental model that has improved my ability to communicate well and understand people is love languages. If you’re looking to increase your social intelligence and skills, read on. The five love languages are different ways that people show and receive love according to the book The Five Love Languages. They are:
- Words of Affirmation: This love language is all about using words to build someone up and show them love. For example, if your love language is Words of Affirmation, you might feel loved when your partner tells you how much they appreciate you or when they give you a thoughtful card or letter.
- Acts of Service: This love language is about showing love through actions, like doing things to help out your partner. For example, if your love language is Acts of Service, you might feel loved when your partner does the dishes or takes care of the kids so you can have some time to relax.
- Receiving Gifts: For some people, receiving gifts is a way that they feel loved and appreciated. It doesn’t have to be a big or expensive gift, just something that shows thought and effort. For example, if your love language is Receiving Gifts, you might feel loved when your partner surprises you with your favorite flowers or a book they know you’ll enjoy.
- Quality Time: This love language is about giving your partner your undivided attention and spending quality time together. For example, if your love language is Quality Time, you might feel loved when your partner takes you on a date or sits down to have a deep conversation with you.
- Physical Touch: For some people, physical touch is an important way to show and receive love. This could be things like hugs, holding hands, or cuddling. For example, if your love language is Physical Touch, you might feel loved when your partner gives you a hug or holds your hand while you’re out for a walk.
Every individual has a different priority of what love language they like to receive and give based on their life experiences and temperament. It’s important to understand your own love language and the love language of your partner because it can help you both feel more loved and connected. For example, if your love language is Acts of Service but your partner’s love language is Physical Touch, you might be doing a lot of things to try to show them love, but they might not feel it as much because what they really need is more physical affection. By understanding and speaking each other’s love language, you can both feel more loved and happy in your relationship.
Ever since I found out about this, I’ve noticed different ways where a lack of understanding and execution of love languages can have a noticeable impact. I recently hired a coach who told me how his rich friend’s love language is gifts. Even though he’s rich and doesn’t need gifts since he can afford whatever he wants, it’s the gesture that counts, which is why his friend flipped out when the coach didn’t give him a physical birthday present in the past. Although he probably delivered a good experience to his friend on his birthday in other ways, his friend was looking for a gift. Since I was invited to this friend’s birthday party, I was recommended to bring a gift for the same reason. It didn’t have to be expensive if I couldn’t afford it, it’s the gesture that counts.
Another example is when my siblings and I flew back from the corners of the country to my parents’ place for the winter holidays. I could see the different love languages play out. I tend to value receiving and giving quality time, so I catch myself sometimes measuring my time by if I’m spending enough with others and if me or others leave early. Another sibling wanted to give an act of service to our mom, so she made our mom stay in her room for two whole nights while she had all of us remodel the kitchen for her. Hence, we had to subtract quality time with our mom to give this act of service. While my sister likes giving acts of service in this once instance, I’ve seen her appreciate Words of Affirmation a lot when she receives it, and we’ve both often been known to give gifts in the form of paying for a restaurant bill or physical Christmas gifts to each other.
Gauging a stranger’s love language priorities is difficult. I heard we often prefer to give what we have in abundance and prefer receiving what we have in scarcity. You can also observe how people show love to people over time to get a clue. I don’t tend to see a lot of people where physical touch is #1. I don’t see a lot of people hugging others all the time, especially post-pandemic. I do see some people cook and offer their food sometimes, which is a clue that Gifts may be their way of expressing love to others. That doesn’t mean that’s what they like to receive also. I can see if that’s true when I offer food I made or have back to see how enthusiastically they receive it.
There’s likely subcategories of each Love Language. I feel like some people may like to receive a gift of food more than a gift of money or vice versa. My sibling is rather indifferent to food unless she’s really hungry or tired; otherwise, she ignores it when I am really excited about it. I’ve always been a foodie and had a high metabolism. Plus, eating out was rare when I was young, so I cherished it. My mother also tends to like gifts with a lot of thought, meaning, and intention put into them over expensive gifts you can just swipe your credit to ship because it shows a lot of unique, meaningful expression rather than low effort.
I don’t think it should take long to go through and test each love language with a person and find out what they like to receive as long as you’re aware and intentional about it. Sometimes, the results are surprising or informative. My family didn’t touch each other for over two years because of the pandemic, and no one complained. However, one of my former CrossFit classmates told me a couple times how he longed to hug his children and grandchildren but couldn’t during that time. Once you’ve identified what someone values, try to choose their love language when giving them love and appreciation. It’s usually a higher return on time invested at the end of the day. You could spend hours creating something for them with the wrong love language and end up not getting the reaction you wanted when you could spend a fraction of that in the other love language (Note: that’s not always true. Sometimes, it takes just as long or longer. It’s worth it though for the impact you want to get.)
Using love languages in a professional setting can be tough but valuable. In this context, you’re looking to develop effective platonic rapport and appreciation rather than romantic appreciation or family love. Physical touch can be difficult in remote work settings or for professional settings. It’s likely going to be not a priority or if it is, it usually something with that intention: a firm handshake, a tap on the shoulder, something that is socially savvy for the context. Quality time may be more about getting to know someone rather than keeping it all to the business with small talk before a meeting or at the water cooler. As I think about these for a past manager of mine, I realize that just because someone may prioritize one love language doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate all the others. I’ve given gifts, words, and small talk before, and they’ve all been appreciated in their own ways. It’s just sometimes, if they had to choose, they’ll choose one that delivers the most impact. Some people have a more even spread of priority; others will make it obvious that one is the most important. I used to work with one creative director who loved to get to know someone he just met. He would ask new coworkers all these personal questions about their hobbies, life, and activities outside of work – it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that he was very curious about getting to know someone personally rather than just getting down to business.