It's just a silly joke (no it isn’t), but love languages have become a way to describe the way we feel and communicate love. Sparked by the 1992 book by Gary Chapman, the development and application of love languages has expanded and become mainstream. You’ve probably heard of love languages, even if it’s just the jokes in our current zeitgeist, but the true foundation of the five love languages and their application is powerful.
Today we’re diving into our personal favorite love language—words of affirmation. Read up on the 5 love languages in general, then we’ll show you exactly what words of affirmation might look like in your life, relationships, or workplace.
It’s a thoughtful and heartfelt way to show a loved one how much they’re cared about and appreciated! Learn more
The 5 Love Languages
The 5 Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate was written by Gary Chapman and published in 1992. In this book, which focuses primarily on romantic applications for married couples, explains that people feel—and show—love in different ways. Through research and personal experience, Chapman shares the five main categories of feeling and expressing love that he’s observed: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time.
Many people feel and show love using the same language, but some may feel love more strongly with one language and prefer to show love through a different language. Most marriages will find that they have different and conflicting love languages. An example of this is the hardworking husband who is expressing his love by working to provide for his family, but a verbally processing wife who wants to hear her husband speak love and compliments. Both are valid, but they’re not aligned. Being able to align your love language with that of your partner can create a more satisfactory marriage and partnership.
Love languages are primarily applied in marriage relationships, but in subsequent years, the love languages have been applied to a much broader audience than married couples. Chapman has spinoff books for children, teens, singles, and the workplace. The love languages can be used to communicate appreciation and care in any type of relationship, and help you cater your efforts to the unique needs of the person in front of you. I like to think of the languages more broadly as the validation languages (which makes it less awkward to think about than your employee’s love language).
Let's take a quick look at each of the five love languages.
Words of Affirmation
This highly common love language is all about verbal (or written) communication that is intended to build up another person. This love language may include compliments, expressions of love, appreciation for actions or behaviors, leaving kind notes, and any other ways you might use words to show love.
Some people feel love through person-to-person contact. It’s much more than physical intimacy between partners, though. It may include high fives, hugs, holding hands, back-scratching, a tender touch to the cheek, kisses, or snuggling. It’s important to understand what types of physical touch make your partner feel loved.
Acts of Service
Someone whose love language is acts of service will feel especially loved and appreciated when you do something for them that will make their life easier. Acts of service might include doing the dishes, bringing them a donut from the breakroom, covering some of their responsibilities, or running an errand for them. Thoughtful service is a major way to demonstrate love, loyalty, and care for others.
We’re not talking about birthdays. The love language of gifts is all about making offerings to help your person feel seen and special. They may be purchased and wrapped gifts, or they might be buying lunch for your recipient. It’s not about spending money—it’s about offerings that say “I was thinking of you.”
When your love language is quality time, you feel closest with others when you’re able to spend dedicated, quality time with them. It’s more than just being in the same room with them—it’s doing something together. Quality time might mean going on dates, playing games, having deep discussions, traveling together, or doing meaningful work in tandem.
What are Words of Affirmation?
Words of Affirmation is one of the most common languages but can be difficult or unnatural for some individuals. As a love language, Words of Affirmation is using words to show love, appreciation, acknowledgment, and concern for another person. Usually, the spoken word is expected, but words of affirmation can also be through writing or music.
Words of Affirmation is sharing words with another person that may help them feel:
- Cared for
For those who feel love through Words of Affirmation, they may need to regularly hear or read praise and encouragement from those they interact with. They may choose to provide verbal or written feedback for the important people in their lives, as well. On the flip side, they may be more damaged by negative or hurtful words than people who identify with other love languages. You’ll want to be very careful when you provide critical feedback or speak in a moment of anger, because words will affect these people deeply.
Adding this love language into your daily practice, either for family relationships or work ones, can radically change the way you interact with everyone in your life and lead to improved outcomes for everyone. You can’t expect to immediately master the art of Words of Affirmation, but over time you can develop this love language skill that will benefit your life greatly.
Examples of Words of Affirmation
For people for whom Words of Affirmation is not natural, it can feel incredibly vulnerable and intimidating to share love and appreciation verbally. If you grew up in a home where love and affirmations were not spoken aloud, it might feel awkward to do it in your home or in the workplace.
We get it.
Here are some examples of Words of Affirmation in action so that you can get a feel for ways to use this love language more in your home or workplace. You can steal them (we won’t tell) or use them as inspiration for your own application.
Words of Affirmation for Him
- You are so handsome.
- I appreciate your hard work for our family.
- I love the way you do (task).
- You’re the love of my life.
- I’m so proud of you for _________.
Words of Affirmation for Her
- I see how much you do for us.
- Your outfit looks amazing.
- Thank you for helping me ________.
- You’re hilarious!
- I appreciate how patient you are.
Words of Affirmation for Kids
- Thank you for doing ________.
- I can tell you’re trying hard.
- There is no one else like you.
- You are so smart/kind/brave.
- I love you so much!
Words of Affirmation in the Workplace
- Thank you for your effort on this project.
- I knew you’d be the right person for this job.
- You are so great at ________.
- We are so lucky to have you on our team.
- I appreciate how reliable you are.
- Thanks to _______ for their work on this.
Ways to Share Verbal Words of Affirmation
- In person, when you’re with them
- Voice memos
- Phone calls
- Speaking positively of them to others
Ways to Share Written Words of Affirmation
- Handwritten notes or letters
- Social media shoutouts
- Group ecards
When Words of Affirmation are Difficult
For some people, Words of Affirmation do not come naturally. If you’re one of these people—we get it—but you can’t avoid it forever. Words of Affirmation is one of the most common and powerful love languages, and an inability to communicate love and appreciation will hold you back.
When it’s uncomfortable to express your feelings to others, you can find more adaptive ways to meet their need for words of affirmation. Writing your appreciation down in a letter, email, online greeting card, or post-it note can help you be thoughtful as you express yourself (and take as much time as you need!). Borrowing the Words of Affirmation you see elsewhere can also be powerful—so long as you truly mean them. Music lyrics or good examples of appreciation you’ve encountered from others can help inspire you.
When in doubt, the formula of observation + effect can serve you well. Start with what you’ve seen from this special person and then state how it has affected you, then finish with a simple “thank you.”
For example, you might praise your spouse by saying “I noticed that you picked up that mess the kids left in the living room. That was such a relief that made me feel more relaxed and peaceful hanging out there later. Thank you.”
At work, it could look like this: “You’ve worked really hard on this proposal and it’s incredibly thorough. It makes our team look really good, and took a bunch of work off my plate. Thanks so much!”
Words of Affirmation in Action
The best way to get good at Words of Affirmation (or to see if they have an impact on the people in your life) is to practice. Start looking for ways to provide more positive feedback and appreciation for the people you regularly interact with, at home and work. Start small with a quick observation or written comment on something they’ve done. Or if it’s time to show someone some major love—go big with a Kudoboard. In just a few clicks we’ll get you an easy way to share kind words as a group, no matter how far you may be scattered.
Give it a try. It’s really not hard, and you’re smart and totally capable. (See?)