Team Love Languages

Just like a marriage, working partnerships also can fail. Here are five things to focus on to make any relationship successful.

Yes, it is true. I am divorced. Not once, but twice. GASP! Times two! I thoroughly enjoyed my float in the marriage parade, but then I had to watch as it careened out of control, crashed, and burned. Shocked, saddened, and bewildered, I wondered what went wrong? I had listened to all of the usual warnings from family, friends, and the latest self-help “experts” on love. Are you certain this person is “the one”? Remember that good communication is the glue that keeps you together. In that intensely emotional chaos of the marriage vortex, perhaps I only thought I was listening. Hmm, well, maybe I heard but didn’t understand. We were too busy sipping coffee near the Eiffel tower, sunbathing in Hawaii, and watching Flamingo shows in Madrid. But once the sun went down on the beach and the dancers put their shoes away for the evening, there was just the two of us. That is when things got complicated.

Don’t worry! I am not here to give you marriage advice because, obviously, I am not an expert in that area. However, there are many lessons I have learned (from my “failures”), and I believe those principles can be applied to our working relationships, as well.

Just like a marriage, working partnerships also can fail. In the professional sense, people fall in and out of love with each other. At first, it is exciting and fun because all of the experiences are novel. But like a marriage, over time, the excitement fades away, and you have a team of real people who have to learn to synchronize their expectations, opinions, and idiosyncrasies. From both my work and marriage experiences, I have taken away a few things I feel are important to focus on to make any relationship successful:

1. Express what you need. Just like a marriage, it is important to communicate what you need. Always compromising to make the other person happy is not the best way to achieve harmony. For example, I love to travel, but my former partner was a homebody. Often I would give in and go on shorter vacations, or visit places that didn’t interest me. Over time, I was getting resentful because I wasn’t able to do something I wanted to do.

It is the same with team members. We have to allow them to give us feedback about their needs. What do they like to do? What is important to them? What are their future goals? Have you asked them lately? If not, is it just an oversight on your part, or do you not care? As managers, we often get caught up in what the organization needs, pursuing our list of goals, and we may forget that our employees also have a set of requirements.

Recruiting and keeping great team members can be hard enough when things are going well, but when team members feel like they are not being heard, or even worse, have no place to grow, they often will leave the company to pursue new opportunities. That is a shame because paying attention to the work relationships can avert a breakdown that hurts both the workers and the organization.

2. Understanding love (a.ka., growth) languages. There are many books for married folks about communication, even some that speak about “love languages.” I did skim through one of those love language books, and I do think I could get used to the idea of getting gifts as an expression of love. But that is another story. However, that does bring us to the idea of communicating with our team, and learning to understand their particular “love language.” For the sake of professional boundaries, we are going to call this “growth language.” 

How does your associate receive information? Do they prefer e-mail, phone calls, text messages, or in-person communication? Everyone has their preference. As managers, are we communicating in a way that works for them, or in the way that works best for us? When we deliver not-so-great news, are we doing it in a positive way that leaves employees feeling empowered and seeing the growth opportunity, or are we leaving them feeling ripped apart and criticized? You have to develop your own “growth language” with each of your team members to ensure they feel appreciated and have the ability to be themselves.

3. Balance is necessary. I have to admit that in my last marriage, I felt overwhelmed. I was the breadwinner, and I also had to take care of everything else. I looked after the family concerns, did the tax returns, planned the events, looked after the car issues and household problems. It wasn’t that I minded doing any of those things, but, from time to time, when it was very busy with work, I didn’t feel like I had any time for myself. The treadmill of daily life devoured me.

It can be the same for your team members. At work, during extremely busy times, challenging times, and when we are implementing innovations, we demand a lot of our team. We pull everything we require from them, down to the last drop of effort. And when it is all over, we thank them and move on to the next round of immediate issues. As managers, sometimes we need to step outside the traditional structure of our organizations and work to provide balance to our teams. This sense of balance will prevent burnout. Just as you might need a weekend getaway or a day at the spa to escape your relationship and daily life stresses, we can do the same at work. When your team has been working hard, you can provide that extra day or two. They shouldn’t always have to wait for those vacation days to be approved. You can send your team members to the spa, to the movies, or allow them to leave early with pay. Yes, there is a cost to your organization, but striving to provide balance, and showing care and concern for the well-being of your team members will pay off in the end.

4. Independence is a must. I like to spend time on my own, and traveling is something I enjoy very much. Going to a new destination and exploring different surroundings and cultures is a great adventure for me. Independence and the ability to enjoy what makes you a unique person within a relationship is a must. An individual needs to maintain his or her identity in order to survive coupledom, and the same is true within a work environment.

Are you micromanaging your team members or working to try to make them like you? People need to stand out, and they need to be different. Step back and let them handle things for a change. You can let them make mistakes. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. You can be open to new ways of doing things, and that is how we get to implement innovation. It is okay to allow your team members to grow. As managers, of course, we are always there to coach and support. However, we can’t let these practices become so focused and rigid that it seems you are trying to create an army of clones. Learn to let your team members be themselves, and you will be much stronger together.

5. Keep it fun. I like wine. A lot. I don’t have a drinking “problem,” but being married to someone who didn’t like to drink at all became an issue. My partner wasn’t interested in going to a wine-tasting, or a nice wine dinner, and that was, well, BORING. In a marriage, you need to have some shared interests that keep things fun. You don’t want your life to be just about work, cooking, cleaning, and taxes!

When a relationship is dull, people start to look for excitement in other places. It is the same with your team. You HAVE to keep things fun. I go to so many companies and see people struggling to make it through the day because everyone is so bored. Keep things exciting and find new ways to motivate your team. Do something out of the ordinary. When did people lose their ability to be silly? Just because we are grownups, it doesn’t mean we can’t laugh and be silly. Encourage a “team workout” to strengthen those sense of humor muscles: BE SILLY! Have fun with your team members! If things can be light-hearted and fun, they will want to come to work each morning. And if they want to be there, they will be more fun to be around, and if they are more fun to be around, it will make you more fun to be around, etc., etc. It is a vicious circle of fun! It has to start somewhere, so it might as well start with you.

Keeping your work relationships strong will help reduce turnover and make your organization more successful. It is that simple. Now I just have to find a way to apply those same concepts to my next marriage to make it last! That’s a bit harder. Wish me luck!

Kevin James Saunders is a trainer and the chief company culture director for Oculus Training, a British Columbia-based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, the U.S., and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining, via e-mail at or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.