Because many teams work closely together, it’s smart to take time to discuss love languages as a team. Help individuals identify their specific love language, and then work to develop an office culture that helps effectively nurture each other and builds on each other’s strengths and love languages.

What decisions and paths should the real estate industry be prioritizing? And how can you, whether managing a team or an entire company, bring those best lessons to bear where you work? In February, in advance of building an industry blueprint at Inman Disconnect, we’ll plumb the topic of leadership with Q&As with top industry leaders, contributions from esteemed Inman columnists and more.

As we emerge from the shadow of the global pandemic, real estate teams are beginning to evaluate the damage unleashed upon their organizations over the past few years of isolation. Many teams have faced tremendous obstacles in returning to the office and some team members are struggling with the lingering effects of the prolonged separation.

Bottom line: A lot of work lies ahead to restore team camaraderie, morale and cohesiveness.

One aspect of my prior job included oversight of a counseling center. As the counselors met with couples encountering difficulties in their relationships, a recommended resource was Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.

Broken into five separate categories, by taking a simple quiz, partners could identify their top two love languages. In most relationships, it was fairly simple to see that each partner was trying to love the other based on their own love languages, not the language that meant the most to their partner.

In one situation, the husband’s primary love language was “receiving gifts,” while the wife’s was “quality time.” The husband kept working late but would come home with small gifts. The wife, on the other hand, scored extremely low in the “receiving gifts” category; she simply wanted her husband to give her more time.

It goes without saying that tensions began to grow as the gifts from the husband were not well received and the wife’s needs for more time were not being met. In fact, she viewed her husband’s gifts as a sort of bribe to compensate for his extended hours at work; while the husband, seeing that she did not seem to appreciate his gifts, labeled her as unthankful.

What is true in personal relationships is also relevant in a team setting. The languages that mean the most to an individual do not disappear once they cross the threshold of their work environment.

Like it or not, we are all driven by emotional needs that fuel our subconscious behaviors and routines. As humans, we need to feel valued and confident that we are a significant part of the team. If emotional needs are not recognized and met in a team setting, members can quickly feel unappreciated which usually leads to burnout and, in many cases, the departure of a valued team member.

In many work environments, the standard approach to rewarding team member accomplishments is a bonus or gift of some kind. Unfortunately, this only addresses one of the five languages and, for those who do not like public attention, can actually make an employee feel like they are being singled out.

While some might revel in a bonus, it’s frequently not enough to make a person feel valued by the team. Wise team leaders understand the importance of knowing how their team members are wired and are able to provide the type of communication and reinforcement needed by each individual on their team.

Here are the five work love languages and how they can be put to work in your organization:

1. Words of affirmation

It is good to congratulate someone and say, “Well done!” Words of affirmation, however, go much further. Team members with the primary love language of words of affirmation not only need to know they did a great job, but they also have an intrinsic human need to know exactly how their contribution made a difference.

Instead of a team leader simply saying, “Great job!,” a more complete affirmation would be, “I really appreciate how you jumped in and helped us launch on time — your contribution was key in helping us nail it!”

Team members want to know how their efforts and contributions affect the team as a whole. Although some members of a team are in the public eye and get the most attention, it’s frequently the work of those behind the scenes who make the front-runner’s efforts shine.

A great comment in this situation would be, “The extensive background work you did on our presentation helped us seal the deal — we deeply appreciate your detailed work!”

2. Quality time

When a team is moving quickly toward any given goal, time is frequently the commodity that is pushed to the back burner. While some love working in isolation with no distractions, others, such as those with the primary love language of quality time, function best when collaborating with others.

If they are consistently left alone to do their work in solitude, they can quickly become alienated. It’s no secret the pandemic was especially hard on those needing quality time with others. Even though Zoom conferences were utilized, it was simply not the same.

Those needing quality time do not just need someone there with them when they are working. There is also a need to be with others just to be together. Those in a relationship who have quality time as their love language want more than to be together with their partner to accomplish tasks. They love having the other person there to share life moments, go on walks, have talks and more.

Wise team leaders understand both needs. Not only do they link up with team members to provide collaborative work environments, but they can also provide social activities that are non-work related.

Silicon Valley became famous for the after-work gatherings in local bars and employers quickly realized that they could capitalize on this need by providing networking environments inside their offices. Many companies are currently trying to figure out how to restore this critical element now that many workers are remote.

Employees with the primary language of quality time need personal attention and a sense of belonging that comes from time spent together. They appreciate one-on-one meetings, collaborative work environments, brainstorming sessions and fun team-building events.

Most importantly, they want the sense that when you give them time, they are your sole focus, and you are not trying to do a few other things while talking to them.

3. Acts of service

I recently spotted a T-shirt that said, “I love hugs and kisses, but what I REALLY love is help with the dishes.”

For those whose primary love language is acts of service, that T-shirt nails it. In a nutshell, the creed these team members live by is, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Faced with difficult or arduous tasks, team members with this love language thrive when others on the team pitch in and help. It does not need to be a large task for the contribution to be significant.

Although help is always welcomed on larger projects, the simple act of popping into their space and saying, “I have a few minutes. Is there something I can help with?” can go a long way in nourishing this type of team member.

It’s important to set simple ground rules when volunteering to help.

  1. Ask if they would like help.
  2. Make sure they know exactly how much help you can provide — clearly delineate expectations.
  3. Help them out of a desire to provide service freely, not out of obligation, compunction or to store up credits to be cashed in at a later date.
  4. Make sure the help you provide is actually helpful. You do not want them to end up in a situation where they need to redo work that was not done correctly.
  5. It’s best to be able to finish any task you begin.

Some organizations cross-train their employees to facilitate this need. Even though some individuals’ jobs are highly specific, there are still ways they can be helped if those in leadership positions understand the nature of their love language.

4. Tangible gifts

Those with this love language feel cared for when a meaningful gift is given. It could be a gift card, something they particularly love, a bonus, tickets to an event or show or even paid time off.

Interestingly, research shows that only 6 percent of couples, the original source of the research, have this love language. This is doubly ironic because a substantial number of businesses use gifts, swag, bonuses and more as the primary way of motivating and rewarding employees. Consequently, they often spend money in areas that have no tangible effect.

There is also confusion in many workplaces about the purpose of a gift. Most companies give gifts to motivate and reward employee behavior. This can actually be manipulative and end up getting the wrong results. True gift-giving, on the other hand, is done without strings or an attempt to motivate to a specific action.

By carefully watching employees, it’s not only possible to discover which one has tangible gifts as their primary love language but also to determine what type of gift will add value to their lives. Most importantly, a gift must come without strings and should be a complete surprise.

5. Physical touch

With the chronic abuses that have happened in workplaces over the years and the advent of the #MeToo Movement, the message is clear: everyone from the President of the United States down must be aware of and sensitive to appropriate touch boundaries in the workplace.

Having said that, there is still a place for appropriate touch in a work environment since a significant number of employees in any given company have “physical touch” as their primary love language.

Many feel motivated and appreciated when given a hug, handshake or fist bump. The pandemic has been hard on this group. As we are easing out of the strict social distancing mandates, it’s time to begin reintroducing appropriate touch back into the workforce.

As I recently watched a documentary on SpaceX’s first successful launch of astronauts to the International Space Station, there were several celebratory moments where handshakes, fist bumps, high fives and hugs were abundantly visible.

Rules laid down by any given workforce must be adhered to, and permission needs to be given before touching of any kind. There is no place in today’s workforce for inappropriate touch, even if the giver is sincere in their efforts to demonstrate their appreciation.

At their core, the principles around identifying and re-enforcing love languages in the workplace have to do with improving communication and meaningfully honoring fellow employees so they feel appreciated and loved.

Because many teams work closely together, it would be prudent to take some time to discuss love languages as a team, help individuals identify their specific love language and then work together to develop an office culture that helps effectively nurture each other and builds on each other’s strengths and love languages.

Carl Medford is CEO of The Medford Team.

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