“The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love, or a call for love.”
–Marianne Williamson, author of A Return to Love
If I speak English and you speak Spanish, we will not be able to have a conversation. This much is obvious. But even when two people speak the same language misunderstandings happen.
Spoken language is the surface level of communication. There’s deeper conversation going on… an emotion underneath the words.
Great leaders, great marketers, and great sales agents are privy to this deeper conversation; it's what makes them great! These people are able hear, and then respond to, the emotion underneath the words; a skill that's also linked to happiness and prosperity.
In practice, I find it helps to recognize that every communication can either (1) create a feeling of connection/love, or 2) create a feeling of disconnection/potentially harm. The feeling of connection builds a relationship. The feeling of disconnection can anxiety.
“A relationship starts to breakdown, when the goal becomes distance as opposed to connection.”
–Danny Silk, author of Keep Your Love On
The way you respond to the EMOTION underneath the words determines whether your connection or anxiety grows; and if you continually create the feeling of disconnection, the person will not want to communicate with you anymore.
To stack victory upon victory in the communication game, you need to participate in a deeper conversation. Otherwise, you're playing a crapshoot.
This is my four-step system:
- Listen for the emotion underneath the words
- Categorize the emotion using the 5 Love Languages
- Avoid the trigger for disconnection
- Use the trigger for connection
The 5 Love Languages started out as a way to express a heartfelt commitment to your mate. Since then, Gary Chapman has developed a series of books covering how to apply the 5 Languages in the home, school and workplace.
Think of the 5 Love Languages, as five ways we express and experience connection. The five languages are (1) gift giving, (2) quality time, (3) words of affirmation, (4) acts of service (devotion), and (5) physical touch. Each person has one primary and one secondary love language.
Remember, to engage in the deeper conversation the first step is listening for the emotion underneath the words, the second step is categorizing the emotion using the 5 Love Languages, the third step is avoiding the trigger for disconnection, and the fourth step in using the trigger for connection.
Here are my cliff notes that I use to put the method into practice:
- Words of Affirmation – “Listen for someone who encourages you, makes genuine compliments, and shrinks when critisized.” Disconnection: Criticism; choose your words carefully. Connection: Acknowledge them, encourage them and be quick to forgive them.
- Acts of Service – “Listen for someone who makes thoughtful gestures, make your life easier, and complains about trivial tasks they can do themselves.” Disconnection: Being too busy to help them. Connection: Work with them, when they get stuck help them and follow through on commitments you make to them.
- Receiving Gifts – “Listen for someone who gives surprise gifts, reminds you about special events, and events you forgot to celebrate.” Disconnection: Forgetting to give them gifts on special occasions. Connection: Express gratitude to them, give gifts to them and be present for them (especially when they need you).
- Quality Time – “Listen for someone who enjoys having meaningful conversations, asks you how your day was, gets snappy when you're distracted.” Disconnection: Long stints without one-on-one time. Connection: Spend quality time with them, ask questions with a genuine desire to understand them and go on long walks with them.
- Physical Touch – “Listen for someone who gives good hugs, uses pats and nudges to communicate instead of words, and gets restless when not being touched.” Disconnection: Receiving affection coldly. Connection: Give extra big hugs to them, nudge and pats them and use body language to communicate with them.
[It helps to think of EVERY communication as a bid for a specific type of attention.]
Here are five one-minute shorts, one for each love language:
You can use the bullet points above like quick reference guide. For bonus point, strive to put all 5 Love Languages into practice with everyone, regardless of the person primary or secondary love language.
We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it. –John Lennon, co-founder of the Beatles
What’s your Love Language? What about your partner, best friend, boss? To answer to this question look at what they do when they're happy and also when they're anxious. Once you know their Love Language, you can actively nurture the connection.
Remember, "What You Water Grows!"
- Do you want to discover your Love Language profile? The author of 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman, has a free test on his website.
- For more information on ‘bids for attention’ look-up John Gottman. He’s a relationship expert. Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples — straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not — will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later, based solely on responsiveness to bids for attention.
First published June 2015. Rewritten February 2017.