Importance of Love Languages for Crisis Management

There is an increasing body of research into the importance of language use and behaviour in aspects of people’s lives. For example, it happens that things are in a different context that seems useful in that of risk and crisis management.

The five languages of love are important for creating attachment between people. In itself, this is the best assurance that people can trust each other. Love is a strong factor in this. Love refers to friendship. This contribution is therefore about the super-soft aspect of crisis management.In this article, I write my own opinion, not that of any organization.
Author: Manu Steens

Importance of the love languages for crisis management?

In crisis management, you need to know who you can rely on. To do this, people need to know each other well. This is only possible if there is psychological interpersonal safety. Friendship is necessary for that. This requires knowing each other’s use of language and the behavioural reactions to it. The love languages matter in every team.

What are the five languages of love?

This article is based on the book ‘The Five Love Languages for Singles’ by Gary Chapman. The essence of this is that, also among colleagues, this technique works to be able to interact better with each other and therefore perform better. This is because someone who feels loved also feels more appreciated and will try harder. To do this, people have to explore each other’s languages, and that takes effort. This exploration of the languages is necessary in order to be able to replenish each other’s love tank with primal energy. For that, the primary love language is the most important. Sometimes a second and third love language is very important, almost as important as the primary love language. You can’t forget those.

The languages of love are intertwined with behavioral traits. They consist of the following ‘languages’, each of which may still have ‘dialects’:

  • Having positive words for each other
  • Investing time and attention in each other
  • Giving gifts to each other
  • Serving each other
  • Touching each other

Brief Overview of the Five Love Languages

1 – Having positive words for each other

Positive words in the work context are a textbook example. The management booklets present it extensively as a ‘must do’. Use it with focus on people with that love language. You can admire someone for one or a few accomplishments when you notice that that person knows that their boss can hear it too. That was generally the maxim in a number of management booklets. However, the words are especially effective if it is that person’s love language, regardless of whether the boss hears it. Above all, it must be sincere. It has to come from within. If someone didn’t accomplish something well, it doesn’t work and comes across as cynical. If, on the other hand, it is sincere, that employee will feel love, respect, and more likely to be appreciation. This will result in better performance in the long run.

Inserting a funny moment is another way to make positive words felt. Humor, as long as one interpretes it correctly, can create a good atmosphere, in which other positive words have a greater effect. Especially if you can connect the two. A bit of cynicism in a funny setting, to keep the atmosphere going is okay. In addition to positivity, this also borders on making and having time and attention for each other.

2 – Investing time and attention in each other

In a work context, a day of team building is usefull to make and have time and attention for each other. Originally, the idea of team building was ‘learning to depend on each other’ and learning ‘mutual trust’. You don’t learn that in one day. Nowadays, a day of team building is often a day out and going out for a good meal together at the expense of the organization. However, this is not enough if people do not make time to get to know each other. It is, however, a distinct opportunity to do so. If you turn the trip into a day together, this can be an opportunity to give the other person a moment of well-being, by getting to know their love language. But that takes effort.

3 – Giving gifts to each other

Giving gifts shouldn’t cost a lot, but it should be separate from the idea that it’s a reward. Otherwise, the gift becomes a means of payment for a service. Then many people will see it as an extra, but it will not help replenish their primal energy. That is why the end-of-year bonus is actually a counterexample of a love language use. After all, it creates expectations. The replenishment of the primal energy only really gets going when the gift comes more or less unexpectedly.

That’s why a small unexpected gesture can mean a lot more. Like when a CEO provides a budget to buy Easter eggs for the employees. Usually their place is where people expect them. But what if you attach a personal gesture to it, as a simple employee, by taking a number of those eggs and presenting them at an unexpected moment. Simply with the question “Do you want an Easter egg?” People who have gifts as their main love language will respond very positively to them.

An alternative can be to bring cookies when you have your birthday, but also ‘just like that’. For no particular reason.

4 – Be of service to each other

This is central to the five love languages, because on a generalist level it forms the basis of what then ‘specializes’ with the application of all five languages.

A simple question might be, “Shall I do this for you?” When a file arrives and the colleague who needs to know about it is just going on holiday. When he comes back, you know, the work is going to pile up, but you still have some free time. The simple question “Shall I take a helicopter view of this file for you?” can make him or her shine. If it is successful, he will appreciate it, and even more so if that person’s love language is service.

Never ask yourself the question, “But what if I ask what I can do for him or her and he or she asks for something that is not easy?” That’s just it. Interpersonal safety is like the city of Rome. It wasn’t built in a day. And it certainly wasn’t easy.

5 – Touching each other

This one is ‘last but not least, on the contrary’, and is very psychologically charged as a technique. You don’t just touch anyone. It is best to limit yourself to a pat on the back or a handshake. But one can amplify this effect by adding the four other languages. Like a prize, a positive note and that on a stage.

How can you get to know these languages in the workplace? A few tips

Observing the spontaneous behavior

Things to look out for are:

  • What topics do they talk about and how?
  • What questions do they ask each other and you?
  • What do they do for their colleagues on their own? For example, to help them. What language does that action fall into?

Please note: the 25% / 75% rule applies here. 25% of people do different things as a transmitter than what they need as a receiver. You can’t rely on this alone, not even in the case of frequent similar events. But it’s a start. It can confirm other indicators.

Listening to complaints

You can ask questions like, “How are you feeling today? Why do you feel this way?”.

When people complain, they normally talk about things that they lack to replenish their primal energy in their love tank, which falls within the five love languages. Be careful, however, to loosen up complaints. Some people can create an unprecedented litany of complaints. That is why it is better to approach asking for complaints in a subtly positive way. A typical question might be “What can I do for you to make your job easier?”. Another question might be “What do you need from me to do your job better?”. In this way, you limit the topics of conversation to the useful (the work) and you normally get an answer that may focus on one or more important languages of the recipient.

If you have a lot of employees, it’s best to limit the answer to the question to a single topic. For example, “Give me one thing you’d like me to do for you to make your job easier or more enjoyable.” The disadvantage of a single answer is that it is not a wide range of answers that you can use for statistics. It then becomes just a single indicator for a language, but it is one. Give them enough time to respond.

Looking at reactions to ‘experiments’

Hand out chocolate eggs at Easter. In the first instance, it should not be the intention to reward employees for their good work, but a joke in the sense of ‘because I know you are corruptible’ is perfect. As long as one takes the latter as a joke, it is an extra language, namely that of attention, with the dialect ‘quality time’. When both languages are important to the recipient, one will reinforce the other.

Ask them how they make friends. The answer may show that a person with more really close friends than average speaks multiple languages or speaks different languages or dialects as a sender than as a receiver.

Asking the question.

The question is: “What can I do for you?”. Ask that question unconditionally. Everything actually starts generalist with this caring and obliging question. The team members can respond to this within the five languages. For example, if you ask the question when you are going to travel. Someone who asks for a gift and is very happy with it is different from another who asks how the trip went and asks about the details of the experiences.

There are questionnaires

As a team leader, you can look up a questionnaire in the literature and submit it to the team. That might work in some teams, but it does give away the game somewhat.

What’s in it for you?


When applying these languages, allow plenty of time for the changes to take place. Take plenty of time to come up with your own ‘creations’ in the application of the five languages. It has to come from yourself. Don’t take the language out of a book. That comes across as fake. People feel that.

Then see after six months whether the working atmosphere is improving. Has your team become closer?

One approach can be that the entire team consiously uses the technique. In a crisis management team (CMT) there is no other way, because everyone has to work with everyone and everyone has to have a good idea of what language the others primarily speak. Even then, the rule remains that the language, whichever of the five it may be, is sincere.

Appreciation and meaning

People who feel loved and therefore respected and appreciated at work will experience more meaning in what they do. They may even systematically raise the bar for themselves, depending on their own abilities. As a result, their capacity increases, their added value for the team and the organization. In a CMT and a crisis communication team (CCT) and other crisis teams such as the expert teams, the solutions are therefore reached faster and better. Because the level of primal energy of the employees will be higher, endurance will improve, with less chance of stress-related absenteeism. As a result, they can achieve greater goals, which increases self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as (interpersonal) confidence in their own and each other’s skills.

Creating psychological safety in a CMT

How do you create this in advance?

Actually, this is a risk management measure against all the risks that misunderstandings can entail during a crisis. To this end, the practice of these five languages must be a fact in advance and crisis preparedness is necessary. To achieve this, the following two things are essential:

  • all the members of the crisis teams (crisis management team, crisis communication team, crisis expert teams,…) must know and practice the five languages on and with each other,
  • One should test this in regular small and large exercises so that it is an experience that one has already mastered in advance in the event of a crisis.

Both of these things are essential.

Knowing the five languages and each other’s first language use is necessary to ensure that

  • the primal energy level of everyone is at a good level,
  • there is a thorough interpersonal psychological safety.

In this way, no energy is spent on reproach, but further solutions can always be worked on. Especially if one of the employees or teams their solution does not work out as hoped for. Feeling loved, respected, and valued offers protection against the negativity of what is actually the impact of an event on the organization as a complex system. Being prepared is the essence. Consciously choosing to know each other’s languages is essential. Working on it ‘in secret’ is not an option.

How do you apply this in crisis management?

In crisis and in crisis exercises, there is no time to think about ‘this is person A, he has that language, I’m going to do this or that’. At that moment, there is no incentive to work on each other’s primal energy and feelings. The crisis is ongoing and must be addressed. That’s why a tank full of primal energy and the friendliness between the team members and between the teams is a premise. Nevertheless, it is important to pay attention to each other’s needs as human beings from time to time.

To this end, ‘refueling’ efficiently and effectively is a must. Taking a ‘stop’ every now and then during a long-term break can be important. During such a stop, one determines interim ‘lessons identified’ and pays attention to the language the others use. It is a moment when one can no longer just say what the situation of the organization is and where one has to go. “What about the people” is one of the points of attention at that time.

During a longer exercise, one should pay attention to this. This can be done with a questionnaire with questions with which people gauge each other’s primal energy level and how they feel valued and check whether the energy tank is still sufficiently filled. For this reason, a role change in crisis teams can be important. During a crisis, one has to be able to ‘get out’ so as not to be completely deflated. The ‘soft management side’ is extremely important in crises.


In times of crisis, a well-filled primal energy tank is very important to be able to cope smoothly with a setback. To this end, one must be able to replenish this energy tank efficiently, and effectively on a regular basis. Hence, knowledge of people is very important: what is important to whom, who gets energy how and what gives it? To this end, knowing each other’s love languages is a valuable tool. To know them, you have to know each other. Interaction with interpersonal psychological safety is a must, which in itself is also nurtured by speaking each other’s languages. Related to this is feeling loved, respected, and valued. These are basic characteristics of a healthy working environment. That a healthy work environment is a more resilient environment in a crisis is a premise in this blog.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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