The Four Work Languages

You’ve most likely heard of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. After years of counseling couples, he discovered that everyone has a “love language” – the primary way an individual expresses and interprets love. The key to loving someone better is to understand her personal love language and begin “speaking” it to her.

While many of us are familiar with these love languages, we may not be as familiar with the equally powerful languages that govern our behaviors in our workplace – I call them the four work languages or styles.

I learned about them the hard way. Many years ago, I was hitting the wall with my then boss, and it took a great mentor of mine to tell me that my issues were not work product-related, but rather work language and style-related. He knew my boss well and explained that my style was very much Driver, while my boss’ was Expressive. We mixed about as well as oil and water.

My mentor explained that if I approached my meetings with my boss in a manner that was relatable for an Expressive, the conversation would be much more productive. I thought it sounded too simple.

After reading a couple of books that examined these four work styles and learning how other styles respond, interact and relate, I decided to test the theory in my next meeting. I can vividly remember sitting there in discussion with my boss, thinking, “Oh my stars, this is working. I can’t believe it was this simple!”

All it took was understanding what best motivates an individual with an Expressive work language and approaching the discussion respectful of his needs. It was truly astounding — this man who had previously seemed mildly frustrated in our meetings and with whom I never had great rapport became noticeably energetic, interested and excited about our meetings.

It was amazing, and it worked time and time again. He ended up pulling me into special projects, calling me in to brainstorm with him and, ultimately, helping me advance my career. All because I took the time to understand the language he spoke and made the effort to communicate with him in his “language.”

Part of the beauty of working with others is that we are all so different. Respecting and understanding those differences can mean everything in how effective we are at work. It doesn’t require changing who you are, because all of us bring our own unique strengths and styles to the table. It means understanding where others are coming from and respecting that difference in how we approach and interact with them.

The four work styles are Driver, Expressive, Amiable and Analytical, and no business would thrive without a mix of all four. There is a joke that any strategy meeting with a room of four Drivers would result in four different strategic plans, four Analyticals would result in a detailed list of questions, four Amiables would end up in a feel-good collaborative standstill and four Expressives would result in a great discussion and creative thought with no remembrance of the meeting’s actual purpose! But a mix of each of these at that strategy meeting can result in great progress.

So let me challenge you to make the effort to understand your coworkers — learn their work languages and styles. Learn how each of the four main types responds under pressure and what makes them the most productive. Learn what motivates each style and opens them up to positive interaction.

Approach your peers and bosses in ways that best suit them, and in doing so, you will help create a work environment that is more positive, energetic and genuinely enjoyable than before. Here are a few sources for learning more about the four work languages: