I’d make a terrible Santa Claus. I’m not a good gift giver.
But I’d make a great Rudolph. I know how to help out when someone needs me.
In the course of all of our relationships, there is always a balance of give and take. Each person sticks with the relationship in part because it’s regularly fed with a nourishing stream of acknowledged appreciation. This is particularly important in our most intimate relationships but it also has a place in our cherished friendships.
The Five Love Languages
The idea of outwardly expressing our love and appreciation for one another came into our collective consciousness through the work of Gary Chapman and his best selling book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. In it, he argues that we all express our affection to loved ones in one of five ways:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Spending Quality Time
He suggests that most people have a primary and secondary love (or appreciation) language. Often they’re formed in our early years by observing how our families expressed affection. This understanding stays with us into adulthood and influences all our relationships throughout our lives. We then tend to instinctively show our affection for others through our dominant languages and unconsciously prefer reciprocated demonstration in the same way.
The problem that may arise is when individuals speak different languages yet try to communicate only through their dominant language. Much can be lost in translation which could lead to disappointment or resentment.
For example, think of the husband whose language is Physical Touch and the wife whose language is Act of Service. He expresses his love for her through cuddling on the couch. But she’s left frustrated when all she wants is for him to fix the leaking sink without asking him a hundred times.
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What’s My Love Language?
Take this quiz to determine which languages are your most dominant.
For each pair of statements, pick the ONE that best fits your preferences:
1 - I like to get acknowledgment from my boss or partner after I’ve completed a big project.
2 - When I haven’t seen a good friend for a long time, I just want to give them a big hug.
3 - It’s nice to sit with my friend one-on-one and get caught up.
4 - I feel like a part of the team when coworkers volunteer to help me out before a deadline.
5 - I feel special when people remember my birthday with little gifts.
6 - An unexpected compliment can brighten my day.
7 - When I’m upset, it makes me feel better for someone to put their arms around me.
8 - I feel close with my friends when we’re out doing things together.
9 - I feel like my friends have my back when they offer help when I’m struggling.
10 - When a friend gets me the perfect gift, I know she cares and really knows me.
1 and 6: Words of Affirmation
5 and 10: Gift Giving
2 and 7: Physical Touch
4 and 9: Acts of Service
3 and 8: Spending Quality Time
How Love Languages Work in Friendship
Did the results of your quiz surprise you? Now think of how you interact with your friends. Do you default to your own language when you wish to convey your appreciation? Also, think of your friends. Based on how they show you affection or appreciation, can you guess what their languages are?
Imagine this. Your primary languages are Acts of Service and Spending Quality Time. Your best friend is getting married and you’re her maid of honor. To help make her day memorable you work your tail off to make sure everything is just perfect. Before you leave for the ceremony you pull her aside and have one last private moment together toasting the end of her singlehood.
After the wedding, you are spent but you feel happy for your friend. You feel disappointed you hadn’t spent any more time with her since the toast. When you return home, you discover a thoughtfully written thank you note and gift she left for you. You appreciate the gesture but you feel a little sad that you were disconnected from her on such an important day.
This is an example of the best of intentions getting lost. All because each person defaulted to their principal appreciation languages. This disconnect can be avoided if each person is mindful of others’ languages and adapts his or her behavior to the recipient’s language. It’s a gesture of goodwill that demonstrates putting the other person first.
How to Decode Your Friends’ Appreciation Languages
To put these principles into practice, it will require some careful analysis. First, you need to understand your own languages and your habits of using them. Then take an educated guess of what your friends’ languages are. Their behavior offers clues.
They bring you souvenirs from their travel. (Gift Giving)
They invite you over for a home-cooked meal. (Acts of Service)
They notice a new article of clothing and compliment you on it. (Words of Affirmation)
They suggest going to happy hour together to get caught up. (Spending Quality Time)
They always greet you and leave you with a big hug. (Physical Touch)
If you’re still not sure, you can ask some thoughtful questions to identify habits or patterns. It’s helpful to tap into cherished memories or unique experiences. Or seek their advice.
What’s the best gift anyone’s ever gotten you? Or you have given?
As a kid, how did you like getting recognition for a job well done?
What’s your favorite way to spend time with friends or family?
My neighbor’s going through a divorce. How do you think I can show her some support?
Imagine for this last question your friends suggest:
“Send her a card with a gift certificate to a spa”
“Take her out for drinks so she can forget about her troubles for an evening.”
“Tell her she’s a great catch and offer to set her up on a date.”
“Offer to babysit her kids to give her some alone time.”
“Stop by her house, sit and chat awhile. Let her know you’re nearby if she needs you.”
For each response, can you guess their dominant languages?
Using Mindfulness to Skillfully Translate Appreciation Languages
With observation and practice, you will begin to see people’s demonstration of appreciation languages everywhere. Bring this mindfulness to your interactions and pay it forward by shifting into your friend’s language. But don’t let this be a one-sided exercise. Be creative in thinking about how you can let friends know what works best for you.
Find ways to casually let friends know what resonates with you. Vocally express your enthusiasm and appreciation for instances of when you got what you wanted and needed. Like gushing about the perfect gift you received, excitedly recalling the great night out, or sharing how the thank you note almost brought you to tears.
If you need to be more direct, you can follow up with words such as, “It always makes me feel cherished by my friends or family when they …”
Practical Examples of Showing Appreciation
Below are some simple ideas of how you can naturally demonstrate each language.
Words of Affirmation
Look someone in the eye and deliberately and sincerely say, “Thank you.”
Remark with enthusiasm about how well someone did something.
Seek out someone’s advice and remark about your faith in their knowledge.
Offer to write a professional recommendation.
Introduce your friend to others as an expert at something.
Send a fun or funny gift for a non-holiday like April Fools Day or Halloween.
Buy a gift or experience related to their favorite hobby.
Offer to pick up the tab at lunch or coffee just because.
Give them a gift they could enjoy with a loved one like a child or partner.
Send a gift when someone is going through a difficult time like illness or loss.
Acts of Service
Offer to pick something up or run an errand for someone.
Offer to give free professional advice/service that you’re an expert in.
Organize a party for them (surprise or otherwise).
Give them back their time by offering to walk the dog, pick up the kids, or make dinner.
Share valuable information that you know would be of interest to them.
Spending Quality Time
Set up a ritual of getting coffee or having a catch-up call at recurring times.
Consciously turn off technology when interacting and give them your undivided attention.
Pursue a goal or hobby together.
Plan a creative outing like a picnic or guided tour of your city.
Invite your friend on vacation with you.
For this one, I don’t have any suggestions. Because, beyond the occasional hug, any more physical touch would cross a divide from friendship into something else. Just be conscious of your friends who always greet and leave with a hug. Indulge them. This is how they feel connected in a platonic way.
The five languages of appreciation are simple ways to be a good friend and show you care without making people feel weird. Put in a little bit of effort to see what kind of results you get. Hopefully, you’ll get some reciprocity along with an evolving reputation for being “such a thoughtful friend”.
Identify your dominant appreciation languages and evaluate how you typically demonstrate them.
Think of some close friends, family, colleagues and try to figure out their languages. Experiment with adapting your behavior to meet their language. Observe the response and journal about what you learned.
How can you get more of your friends (and loved ones) to speak in your appreciation language? Share your ideas with us in the comments.