I believe that love matters anywhere and everywhere, including at work.
- I’m married, but I’ve also been divorced.
- I have close friends, but I’ve also lost friends.
- I’ve had loyal clients who would rave about working with me, but I’ve also been fired by clients, and had to fire clients.
- I’ve had colleagues that I would’ve moved mountains for, and others that I’m thrilled to never interact with ever again (you know who you are 👀).
Throughout all of the good relationships and bad relationships, I’ve learned the difference between LIKE and LOVE. Contrary to popular usage, these are not the same emotion with differing intensities, but rather entirely different experiences. You can love someone you don’t like, and you can like someone you don’t love.
Even in the relationships that fell apart for me, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the importance of love in every area of life. Throughout my career and life, I have always TRIED to lead with love…even if I didn’t like someone.
What is Love?
I’m currently reading The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown. One of my favorite parts of the book, is when she defines love by combing through the qualitative data she’d collected and looking for trends in what people said about love. This is what she came up with.
We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.Brene Brown, the power of vulnerability
She said that nearly every person interviewed mentioned one or more of the following attributes of love:
I don’t see ANYTHING about those attributes that should be off limits at work. However, since the word affection has a lot of romantic association, for the sake of this post, we’ll use the word care instead.
If you bring trust, respect, kindness, and care to work, you will, without question, have better relationships. You will also create the conditions for others to reciprocate your behavior. Better relationships with more trust, kindness, respect, and care are going to be a benefit to an organization.
Seems basic enough. So far, so good, right?
So, what’s the problem? Why aren’t we cultivating love in our work environments.
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”brene brown, the power of vunerability
This is where things fall apart.
Because love is a two-way street, each person has to be vulnerable enough to put themselves out there and offer trust, respect, kindness, and care first. This is uncomfortable for most people. It’s why saying “I love you” first in relationships is such a meme…because it’s universally hard to put yourself out there like that. At work, we’re conditioned to be disconnected, productive, and polite, and have a much harder time giving trust and respect, while actually expending the emotional effort to care.
From the company perspective, because love is not a standardized, repeatable formula that scales with predictable results, businesses are reluctant to put effort into it. Besides, how do you even quantify the ROI of a loving work environment?
Why I Believe Love Belongs At Work
If you don’t know by now, I’ve written a book that will be released in January 2022 called Lovable Leader. The title is deliberately warm and fuzzy, and as a consequence, I know some people will recoil at the idea that there is any place for such strong emotions at work. Business is the place of rational decision making, right? (Narrator: “It’s not”)
I think the reason we don’t talk about love at work is because it would require a fundamental culture shift to do so.
That’s why I wrote the book.
To bring love into work would require vulnerability and connection, the ability to admit error, and the commitment to take care of each other, even if it hurts profitability.
See the problem?
However, if we were to bring love including trust, respect, kindness, and care into work, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see how it leads to more engaged employees and lower turnover, higher performance and greater innovation, and companies with far higher ethical standards that make a more positive impact on the lives of their team members and customers.
What’s getting in the way is that too many forces conspire and intersect to make the idea of love at work uncomfortable. We’ve been burned too many times, and so we’re scared.
Let’s fix that.
Learning a New Language
We’ve been speaking the language of business for too long. All of our talk of money (ROI, profitability, revenue, expenses, etc) has left us cold. When employees are talked about in terms of their production, profitability, or in relation to their quotas, we dehumanize them and reduce them into cogs in a machine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I understand that money is important to business, and that all businesses must deal with the forces of the market including scarcity of time, money and talent…but money cannot be the ONLY thing we think about and talk about.
This means that if we’re going to talk about employee engagement, we have to grow beyond quantifying the return on that effort and instead just authentically care about our people.
We need a new language so that we can express love at work.
In 2015, Gary Chapman published The 5 Love Languages. It has since sold more than 13 million copies. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry, I’ll go over the highlights that are relevant for this post.
The high level summary is this.
- There are different ways to express love.
- People instinctively show love in certain ways.
- People have a conscious or unconscious preference for how they want to receive love.
- Partners (people) who understand each other’s love languages can better show and receive love from one another.
The Five Love Languages are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
These 5 love languages can be used at work to create deeper connections. Try to find out how each of your team members expresses their appreciation and care, and which form they most value.
Words of Affirmation
Words of Affirmation at work take the form of one-on-one encouragement and mentoring, positive feedback, and shout outs.
When someone is motivated by public or private recognition, you should use this love language on top of trust, respect, kindness and care, to create an environment they want to come back to because they feel valued.
Acts of Service
Acts of Service at work takes the form of stepping in to help a colleague with a project typically without being asked. This doesn’t mean taking over the project, it means stepping in to lend a genuine helping hand when someone is struggling. When someone feels most appreciated by your actions, you should use this love language on top of trust, respect, kindness and care, to create an environment they want to come back to because they feel valued.
Gifts at work take many forms, but the most important thing is that the gift is thoughtful and personalized. If someone likes cold brew coffee, getting them a new hat isn’t an effective use of this love language. When someone’s love language is gifts, pay attention to what they say and express your appreciation and care through thoughtful gifts, using this love language on top of trust, respect, kindness and care, to create an environment they want to come back to because they feel valued.
Quality Time at work takes the form of giving someone your full attention, whether that is to discuss work issues or deepen your personal connection. Quality Time can be letting your team member vent, sitting down to discuss a work issue, or going out for lunch together. When someone becomes genuinely happy from interpersonal connections and deep conversation, you should use this love language on top of trust, respect, kindness and care, to create an environment they want to come back to because they feel valued.
It goes without saying but physical touch at work must be used appropriately. When you do use touch at work, it can take several shapes, most commonly a handshake of some sort or the occasional hand on the shoulder. For people whose love language is touch, you’ll probably want to look at their second love language in order to not risk making them uncomfortable.
Commit To Loving Work
We don’t love when we’re scared. So, let’s stop being scared.
The love languages are methods of expressing love to another person. Understanding how other people give and like to receive love, is a good starting point. Knowing that love is about trust, respect, kindness, and care is a great mental model to internalize.
But, none of this is useful if you’re not willing to shed the fear of showing up and being vulnerable enough to put yourself out there first.
We need more love in the world, and that includes work. We need your leadership.
Can we count on you to go first?