are we supposed to accept “touch” as an “appreciation language” at work?

A reader writes:

My work is having us read about the “five languages of appreciation in the workplace” in advance of one of our quarterly all-hands meetings, where we will have “discuss and share.” From what I read, it seems like it’s a pretty direct attempt to apply the “five love languages” to the workplace. Even ignoring my discomfort with the five love languages due to its homophobic roots, I can’t get over that they kept physical touch as one of the languages. They couch it in words like “work appropriate,” but it still feels like encouraging people to physically touch others (or accept being touched) in the name of showing appreciation.

As might be obvious, physical touch is not my “work language of appreciation.” Instead, physical touch from coworkers/managers will likely cause me to utterly shut down and will definitely ruin my ability to work with the person in the future. But what if it’s a coworker’s preferred language? How do I preemptively get across “do not touch me” without seeming dismissive of other people’s preferences? And should I say something about it in this meeting?

When I first read your letter, I was sure you were wrong and they hadn’t kept “touch” as an appreciation language in the workplace version of the book franchise (which was originally created for romantic relationships)! Surely they wouldn’t have.

I checked. They did.


I searched further. They cite things like handshakes, fist bumps, high fives, a friendly squeeze on the shoulder, or a pat on the back. Okay, not the worst, and some people are comfortable with that kind of touch at work. But I’m as astonished as you are that they kept it in the workplace version of their framework.

You know what makes people feel appreciated at work? MONEY.

Not just money! Plenty of people are unhappy in well-paying jobs because they feel their contributions are never acknowledged and their efforts go unappreciated. Other forms of recognition matter too, like praise for a job well done (given publicly or privately, depending on the person’s preferences) and rewards that reflect performance (like opportunities to take on more interesting work or higher-profile projects or professional development or whatever is appropriate and the person actually wants).

But there is no great mystery here that we need to solve with a “five languages” framework.

Their full list of appreciation languages for work is: words of affirmation (that’s praise), quality time (that’s listening to the person and making sure they have time with their manager), acts of service (helping people with their work), tangible gifts (money or otherwise), and what they’re calling “appropriate physical touch.”

It’s really just a marketing ploy — the “five love languages” book had tremendous success and so now they’re trying to shoehorn the concept into other contexts to sell more books.

I bit the bullet and bought the book so I could see what they’re actually saying about touch. They acknowledge that it’s controversial, that some people don’t want it at all, and that it can be “problematic.” They mention that as they were testing their theories, numerous managers “repeatedly expressed concern” about the inclusion of touch (no shit!). They say that it was rarely anyone’s primary language of appreciation at work (again, no shit!). But they go on to say that they believe affirming touches can be meaningful expressions of appreciation to some colleagues.

I still say marketing ploy, but they didn’t ask me.

As for what to do, I strongly doubt you’re going to be pushed to give or accept touch that you’re not comfortable with. But if you need some ammunition, the book itself says: “How can you determine which coworkers may view physical touch as an expression of appreciation? Observe the behavior of your colleagues. Do they frequently pat others on the back, give high fives, or hug others? If so, you can explore whether receiving an affirming touch from you would be received as an expression of appreciation. Typically, those individuals who freely touch others in an affirming manner are the same individuals who would welcome affirming touches from others. On the other hand, if you never see a colleague touch others and … their body stiffens when someone touches them, then you will know that physical touch will not be received as appreciation.”

I don’t think we should ever be “exploring” touch at work to the point where we need to see someone’s body “stiffen when someone touches them” (and I think there’s plenty more wrong with that quoted paragraph), but they’re pretty clearly saying that people shouldn’t be required to give or accept physical touch at work, regardless of what anyone else’s “appreciation language” may be. So if pushed at this meeting, you can cite that — but I think you’re more likely to find a lot of coworkers reacting like you are (and it sounds like the book’s authors found that too).

{ 421 comments… read them below }

  1. Justme, The OG*

    You know the gif of the octopus scurrying away with NOPE flashing at the top? That’s how I feel about this.

    1. Bunniferous*

      Full disclosure: I’m a touchy feely person. But I agree with you. At work that is SO MUCH NOPE…..

      1. Bruce*

        I grew up in a very huggy family and a very huggy church, and I had to change my programming at work! I have not gone in for a hug with a coworker in decades, though there are a couple of former coworkers (including a former manager) that I exchange chaste consensual hugs with :-)

    2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Same. The only people who I allow to hug me at work at the very youngest of the littles, but by age 5, you need to mostly remember to ask and accept my answer ( which is no).

      1. CatMintCat*

        Our kids (I teach K-6 small school) often enjoy hugs (our school of 47 is much more relaxed than a larger school), but they know to ask and to accept a “no” at any time.

    3. Cubicles & Chimeras*

      Not only is that the best gif, that is the most accurate gif for this situation.

      Being touched at work might be my villain origin story.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I love that gif. I hate to be touched. I might yell at someone if they trued to hug me at work.

        1. Cubicles & Chimeras*

          Hug would be extra weird. I’ll tolerate a fist bump or high five with one of those excited labrador retriever types, but that’s about it.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I used to train new staff in a customer service role. The training took several weeks, and I was their trainer and sometimes emotional support (not a role I consider good for me, but others have claimed it is – my natural reserve seems to make me weirdly good at that and sales, because I don’t seem “fake,” I guess). At the end of class, some trainees would hug me. I tolerated it, because I knew I had been there at a very stressful time for them, so they felt an attachment. But I didn’t initiate or encourage it.

            I didn’t hug anyone in my next role, except the day some people who were laid off left (it was a long notice period). I’m not a monster, just not a hugger.

            FWIW, I am a small woman who looks cuddly. I am not cuddly, unless you are a dog, romantic partner, or family member.

            1. Ultimate Facepalm*

              You are like my grandma’s toy poodle that I desperately wanted to hug when I was a toddler. Looks so cuddly. Does not want to be touched. At all.

              1. Frieda*

                There’s a cat like that at my favorite garden store. All the floof! He seems like he’s designed to be petted! Nope. Claws. I admire him from afar unless he seems really friendly on any given day.

            2. Wendy Darling*

              I had a very similar job where my trainees tended to get super attached to me. Once five of them unexpectedly group-hugged me after a post-training dinner outing and I apparently made a face like a cat thrown into a bathtub. My coworker who saw it still laughs about it.

              I’m not unfriendly, and I will tolerate hugs from people I like on occasion, but I don’t actually like being touched by anyone I’m not VERY close to. I was so relieved when the pandemic made it socially acceptable to not do handshakes. Being expected to touch my coworkers on the regular would probably just make my hair burst into flames.

              1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

                I put up a warning cartoon next to the visual doorbell on my cube door, showing that if you touch me to get my attention when I’m in the zone, I will possibly fall out of my chair with startlement, but if you blink the doorbell at me I will be able to greet you calmly.

                For whatever reason if I’m touched unexpectedly, that body part will sometimes experience actual pain even if the touch was gentle. I have no idea why.

                (Dedicated visual doorbells are expensive, so the doorbell I used was a cheap off-the-shelf wireless one with a blinking light that I modified. I thought I might have to cut wires, but it was built so I could just unplug the sound chip.)

                1. Chas*

                  I have an overly panicked reaction when someone tries to talk to me while I’m focusing on something and I didn’t realize they were nearby. The worst case was when my exboss looked over my shoulder at something I was focusing on and asked “so, how did it…” and I yelled “YAAAAAHHHH!” and jumped away from him like a cartoon character.

        2. FricketyFrack*

          We did an activity at a previous job that involved weirdly long handshakes that were basically holding hands, and I almost backed myself clear out of the room on that one. Noooo thank you. Fortunately, my boss was aware of my aversion to touch and was like, “yeah we’re not doing that.”

          Strangely, there’s a man at my current job who has (side) hugged me a couple of times and I don’t mind even though I’d probably reflexively smack anyone else who tried. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of a better version of my dad (and he’s not using it as an excuse to cop a feel). So now my boundaries are “Nobody better touch me except for this one specific guy,” I guess?

    4. knitcrazybooknut*

      I swear to unholy Jeebus. I read that book twenty plus years ago and was appalled by the guy’s last couple of chapters. Can we just not with this crap anymore?

    5. Jeff Vader*

      I’m mildly autistic, so if I know you well enough I can tolerate a fistbump or high-five. Random people touching me…. no.

    6. Pizza Rat*

      I could not have said it better.

      I thought using Myers-Briggs in the office was bad….

      1. I Have RBF*

        At least Myers-Briggs doesn’t encourage boundary crossing like “touch as a love language” does.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Touch is my primary love language. I love when people I like hug me. I offer my friends and family backrubs. When they’re up for it, I cuddle with my roommate.

          I do NOT want appreciation expressed at work by touch. WTF. No. Do not hug me. Do not pat me on the back, rub my shoulder, or anything else like that. Like, I guess I’d high-five someone if they really wanted, but that wouldn’t do anything for me.

        2. Pizza Rat*

          Quite true. It’s also not partly created by a minister. Both cringeworthy as quackery and also on their individual demerits.

    7. Mentalrose*

      I have left places and never returned because people insisted on touching me when I didn’t want to be touched. (I did tell them, and was told ‘well we are all huggers here so you’ll have to get used to it.”) This wasn’t a work situation but bluntly I would quit a job over being touched when I didn’t want to be, absolutely.

      1. ampersand*

        Oh noooo. The response to “please don’t touch me” should never be “get used to it.”

        1. Helen Waite*

          So true! And Ewwwww!

          I remember the prevailing recommendation when I was a child was that if a child didn’t want to be touched, there was something wrong and that the child needed to be touched more.

          Now I’m an adult, and there are people I know who are aware of my non-touchiness. “I know you don’t like this, but I’m a hugger and I have to hug.”

          No. Just no. I’m not an exhibit in a petting zoo for huggers.

          1. BikeWalkBarb*

            Saving “I’m not an exhibit in a petting zoo for huggers.” in case I ever need it.

            I’m something of a hugger but that’s for family, friends, and if someone at work ever looked as if they needed comfort for g-sakes I’d ASK FIRST, “would a hug help?”

            Also feeling very glad my public agency would never suggest *touching coworkers* as appropriate behavior to actually TRAIN people in. Nonononononono.

      2. Pizza Rat*

        “Get used to it?”

        That skips, “Hell, no!” and goes right to, “F no!”

    8. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

      Yeah, just imagine I’m dumping the entirety of my “NOPE” and “do not want” meme and gif folders here. Yikes.

    9. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep. Fetch the Nopetopus, Jeeves, I am issuing forth and away from this horror.

    10. Mim*

      I was more thinking Homer Simpson disappearing back into the hedges, but the octopus works too!

      I honestly couldn’t read the whole thing. Just the idea of it icks me out. Both the touch thing and having to read that freaking book. At work. Sorry, I’m going to be sick whatever week we’re discussing that. blech.

  2. Blarg*

    Pseudoscience in the workplace is always so fun!

    What if we just make up some homophobic and misogynist/patriarchal stuff out of whole cloth and publish it? And then adapt it to other settings?

    HIGHLY recommend the podcast If Books Could Kill and its episode on the Five Love Languages.

      1. Jaydee*

        The shelves are referenced occasionally on the podcast. It’s a running joke. At this point he’ll never finish them.

    1. Not That Kind of Doctor*

      Ugh, my office is gearing up for a pseudoscience round. Our organization’s leadership training program uses the DISC assessment to talk about personalities and relationships. Now we have nearly 3 hours of “training time” blocked over the summer so that everyone in my department can learn their “types” and “how to work better together” – even though we already work pretty well together given our size and broad personality variations. Years ago at another workplace we did this same thing with the Myers-Briggs. It for sure caused more problems than it caused for a while as people bought in hard to the labels and weaponized the concepts for their own gain.

      1. Kristin*

        My work offers Myers-Briggs training as well, but the worst is a workshop I went to on “Visioning”. I signed up because I thought it was about, you know, developing a vision for your work and your team – it turned out to be straight up The Secret “law of attraction” bullshit! I pretended I had a work emergency and noped out as fast as possible

      2. Emily H*

        Research the history of DiSC – it’s WILD – and talk about it during your training; this will be more effective at bringing the group together than any training relating to DiSC.

        1. anonprofit*

          We’re doing disc right now and I’m hating it, do you have any useful sources or tips for keywords? I’m trying to look up the history and it’s just ads.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            It’s based on the work of William Moulton Marston, of polygraph, Wonder Woman, and polyamory fame.

            1. anonprofit*

              Yeah that came up RIGHT after I posted this. Seeing the original terms, I’m having a hard time believing this isn’t a sex thing, knowing what I know about him. (Which is fine in general, but not what I want in the workplace.)

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              Ugh. My office wants to do it. Btdt and didn’t find it useful. I did Myers-Briggs recently and Strengths Based training. (Part of a curriculum.)

              Strengths Based was the least nonsensical. Fun fact: about a year ago, someone in my agency gave a link to a list of what animal you are based on MBTI. I’m an octopus. Which I guess means no hugs plus the ability to mysteriously escape from my tank.

              1. Lily Rowan*

                I have also done a bunch of these, and DiSC is the only one that accurately described me, and it REALLY accurately described me.

              2. Wired Wolf*

                OK, I had to look that up…and apparently I’m a narwhal. Or octopus (I can’t remember off the top of my head which of the 2 types I am).

              1. JustaTech*

                And now I know how I will get out of having to ever do that again!
                (Based on the reviews of the movie he seemed like an interesting guy.)

                I will say that I did get something useful out of doing DiSC at work: my two other coworkers and I were having communication problems (mostly the two of them) and it gave us a framework to go have our own meeting to say “oh, Christina *hates* when you give corrections in a reply all and wants all emails to be just business, and Betty needs some warmth/chitchat in emails or she’s sure you’re mad.” (There was more than that, and it got very specific, but that’s what I remember.)

                So it ended up being a great relief to me because I got to take a break from refereeing the two of them for like 6 months!

      3. Meg*

        We did those at one summer camp job and my results said I have trouble telling people I love them and that I’m extremely introverted. Not helpful in a work context and I ended up getting bullied for it. Funny enough my boss spent all this time on that crap, but tried to illegally fire me for asking for minor ADA accommodations and couldn’t be bothered to look into that.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          Oh ick, I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

          Workplaces can be hell on introverts.

          1. Neil Strickland*

            I would hate something like that – I would never hug someone in the office (I could tolerate something like a fist bump or a high five) but hugs are out. I view this type of thing as something reserved for family members or good friends (provided that they are comfortable with it). I always ask permission.

            1. JustaTech*

              The only times I’ve hugged someone at work (with permission!) were either saying goodbye when they were leaving the job, or times of extreme emotional distress on the other person’s part (a coworker who thought she was going to get laid off, another coworker who’d just had a family member die).

              I’ve brushed people’s arms and shoulders in the lab in the context of training them (having to lean over their shoulder, working right next to someone in a tight space), but never, ever intentionally, and always with immediate apology and moving away.
              The one time my coworker Betty deliberately poked me in the lab I was *abundantly* clear that this was not acceptable (both on a personal level and also on a “this is against safety regs” level).

              There are times where touching coworkers may be unavoidable, but they should be *rare* and *needful* not just because one person likes to touch.

        2. Project Maniac-ger*

          I’m sorry you had to go through that. These “personality tests” that pop out labels are just ripe for bullying. Most bullying is based on a label, so to introduce that and then create in/out groups based on those labels is a party-sized bag of terrible.

      4. Trout 'Waver*

        My theory is the DISC training is the answer to the question “How do you teach empathy to sociopaths?”

        Which is a question that comes up often in business.

      5. Last Action Hero*

        When I had to take the DISC assessment for professional development, one person during our group discussion literally stopped the discussion and said, “OK, but what’s up with Hero??” Because my dot was almost in the dead center. The same thing happened with the Myers-Briggs; two of my letters were borderline and I only was assigned it because 0 didn’t exist as a rank. I proudly (albeit unintentionally!) break pseudoscience assessments. I’ve also made more than one person grumpy by pointing out that my astrological chart is more accurate than any of these “scientific” measures (even though astrology is also pseudoscience).

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I was also nearly dead-center Myers-Briggs (slightly introverted) last time I took the test. I don’t know if that means that I’m difficult-to-categorize, middle-of-the-road, or just sick of taking standardized tests.

        2. Filosofickle*

          I tend to land in the middle of everything, too!

          The only pseudo test that has ever firmly put me in a category AND been dead right is the enneagram of all things.

      6. riverofmolecules*

        Whenever I find myself in these trainings (DISC but they show up under lots of different names), I want to ask people to explain how it’s different from the four humors theory.

        It’s literally just rehashing sanguine/melancholic/bilious/phlegmatic (which is air/earth/fire/water astrology).

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      It’s amazing how many widely accepted relationship frameworks were invented by dudes who wanted to maintain the patriarchy while simultaneously getting out of ever doing anything around the house. Long before I ever heard that episode of If Books Could Kill, the term “love language” automatically set my teeth on edge. I never knew why, then I listened to the episode and I knew!

    3. FuzzBunny*

      Following up on this: There was a great article that came out earlier this year, by psychology researchers debunking the core assumptions of love languages (specifically, that there are only five, and that each person has one preferred core language). Instead, they propose the metaphor of a balanced diet – people need to be shown love in lots of ways, and they need different things at different times. I’ll reply to my own post with a link to the article – the whole thing is open-access, but you could easily scroll to Table 1 and get all you need to debunk the Love Languages pseudoscience.

      1. Dina*

        I one time saw someone say “Your love language is just the thing you’re not getting enough of” and hooooooo boy.

      2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

        FuzzBunny, THANK you for the reference and link I can use in debunking.

        My “love language” is “stop trying to reduce relationships to a simplistic, prescriptive rote formula and treat people including yourself as the multifaceted individuals we all are.”

        1. borealis*

          My “love language” is “stop trying to reduce relationships to a simplistic, prescriptive rote formula and treat people including yourself as the multifaceted individuals we all are.”

          I’d buy a T-shirt with that text. Or with the euphonious abbreviation STTRRTASPRFATPIYATMIWAA.

    4. psychoktty*

      I came for this… prior to listening to that episode if If Books Could Kill, I sort of had it in the back of my mind that the Five Love Languages was somehow perhaps based on something legitimate, like a study, but nope!

      Anybody thinking of using that book for anything official needs to listen to that podcast first!

    5. Cookies For Breakfast*

      Came here to recommend the podcast too. Right after the Five Love Languages episode, I listened to the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus one they referenced a few times. Surprise surprise, found out (through googling the author) that it also has a dodgy workplace spin-off.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        +1. My workplace (as well as I’m sure most others) has ‘unwanted touching’ as part of the harassment definitions. I’ll allow shoulder pats and high-fives from the few coworkers I like and respect (and where I have made it clear that such is ok). Anyone else, no.

        Our union is also fairly explicit that customers are never supposed to touch employees in any way. So if a customer tries to grab me to get my attention (yes this has happened) while I can’t engage my RAD training I can pull away and yell at them.

        1. Petty Crocker*

          I’ve been working in offices since the 1990s. Thinking back to those early days and what was just accepted is absolutely wild. Thinking of what my mother was subjected to before me makes me rather stabby.

    6. Mana*

      I read this book probably a decade ago and I remember agreeing with the general concept that people show/receive love in different ways and it’s important to think about how that may affect your interactions with loved ones.

      But I don’t remember any blatant homophobia/misogyny? What did I miss?

      1. Wem*

        You don’t think “if your husband is (verbally?) abusive, solve it by having more sex with him” is a tad misogynistic?

        And reducing “I wish my husband occasionally changed our baby’s diaper” to “I wish my husband did more acts of service for me” is… yikes. Changing your child’s diaper is not a favor to your wife.

        1. Star Trek Nutcase*

          I never read, nor have any interest in reading, the book. Are these examples really used in the book – or are they readers’ interpretations? I know I read, as do others through my particular lens, experience and expectations, and mostly unconsciously. As someone raised in early 1960s, I certainly never got either message, but I do know my mom’s generation got the diapering as service message.

          1. Read it*

            They’re based off people interpreting it because the guy is a conservative Christian. Apparently calling someone homophobic without actually reading the book and basing it off what a few angry people say online is okay and not at all Christophobic.

            There’s absolutely no homophobic messaging (other than maybe the suggestion that marriage is between man and woman), nor is there any underlying message of tolerating abuse.

          2. Wem*

            This is straight from the book.

            I think the homophobia some allege is just an interpretation – IIRC he doesn’t mention same-sex relationships at all. Which, while perhaps gay erasure, seems reasonable for a book from the 90s.

          3. Wem*

            The diaper nonsense is in chapter 7, the “have you tried more sex” in 12, if you ever desire to double check it.

          4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            Also worth noting: The have had multiple editions of the book and later editions removed some of the more problematic examples, so if you’re looking for those examples, look for the original edition.

  3. S234*

    When I hear appreciative touch in the workplace, I think of Paul Holiday giving people the Holiday Handshake on the Great British Bake-Off when someone makes a really good bake.

    Being touched at work is something I go around craving, but there’s a (narrow, narrow) place for it, I guess.

    1. Stuart Foote*

      I think we can all agree the Holiday Handshake is the one kind of workplace touching we can all get behind.

      They overdo the handshakes in some seasons, and sometimes they feel a little driven by narrative and less on how good the bake is…but I still so excited for the bakers when they happen.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Ironically, the first person to receive a Hollywood Handshake ever went home in the same episode.

      2. kupo*

        I can’t. I don’t like handshakes. I don’t like that they’re frequently required in the workplace. I’m not comfortable with them, and especially now, in the middle of a global pandemic. Thankfully I don’t have to meet with people in person now, but in the future my plan is to simply decline them.

      3. Ms. Murchison*

        Oof, no, I hate handshakes. But I also gave up on the Great British Bake-off years ago.

    2. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      Freudian slip for Paul Hollywood, given that more holidays are an excellent way to show appreciation in the workplace? :D

      1. S234*

        Yes, a slip. My mind knows he’s Paul Hollywood. My fingers typed out what I really want from work.

        Would accept pastries as a gesture of appreciation, though, TBH.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          This is my love language! I routinely bake and bring treats into the office.

    3. Smithy*

      In thinking this through thoughtfully (i.e. fist bumps, handshakes, high fives) – I will say that honestly….compared to words of affirmation, I’d prefer a high five or fist bump. It may be coming from more of a sports background, that as a means of saying well done, it has a core resonance that does matter more to me than words just praising me.

      Not that I want to use this kind of framework at work to tease this out….but moreso where I’m almost surprised at how much more I’ve realized that I resonate with this.

    4. Spero*

      I kind of think in person vs remote is the ‘workplace appropriate expression’ of preference for touch? People who like touch often want to point to how often or what types of specific tangible interactions they experience, and I think that often comes up when people discuss whether or not they like remote work. Someone who is focused on specific tangible interactions and is working remotely may feel very disconnected from a coworker/manager they never ‘see’ even if that person gives encouraging feedback, 1:1s, etc. Vs someone who doesn’t focus on tangible interaction may be perfectly happy remote because they are getting the other feedbacks that are in their preferred style.

      1. Rebecca*

        I absolutely hate being touched, but I go into the office 2 or 3 days a week by choice (I could be fully remote). It has nothing to do with feedback. I don’t even like handshakes, honestly. I just prefer to leave work at work, and find it easier to do that mentally if I drive the 10 minutes to my office.

  4. Guest*

    This is just insanely stupid IMO. Not only is there the potential for creepers, people from certain cultures (Orthodox Jews, for example) are not supposed to touch people of the opposite sex who aren’t family.

    1. Observer*

      Yes. Also many Moslems, if I’m not mistaken. And lots of people who are uncomfortable with *hugs* from people they are not close to. Handshakes and fist bumps are one thing, but the rest?

      1. Annony*

        Yep. At least with a handshake or fist bump, the other person has to opt in. They aren’t suddenly being touched by a coworker.

        1. Star Trek Nutcase*

          That’s really the biggest point – opting in or out is on the receiver. I personally see no problem in those instances (though some awkwardness can result). Totally different fish from hugs or backrubs (yuck!).

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        “Little Mosque on the Prairie” does a great job portraying this. Still remember one scene where related and unrelated characters have to work out who goes where in a group hug.

        Very sweet and funny show all around.

    2. Karen Filipelli*

      I (F49) work in a corporate environment for a large retailer and I was doing store visits with another corp employee (M/late 30s) this past winter. We always introduce ourselves and offer our hand to all the employees at the store. On one occasion, a Muslim worker declined to shake my male coworker’s hand and he very coolly pivoted and just introduced himself without fuss. The Boomer store manager, however, very visibly rolled his eyes AT HIS OWN EMPLOYEE. It was something I had never really encountered before as a woman, but I was thankful for the reminder that we need to do better and respect workplace boundaries.

    3. kalli*

      And by their not touching people, anyone who actually reads the book and internalises ‘if you see someone not touching, don’t touch them’ won’t touch them.

      The problem is the people who think that doesn’t apply to them, who would think that whether they’d read the book or done this workshop or whatever, or not.

      The book can’t *not* address that when handshakes are embedded in the social fabric of ‘how do you do fellow human’ and those tend to involve touching or substitutes in place of the gesture (curtseys, elbow bumps, bows, waves, emojis, whatever). The fact that it does at least go as far as ‘don’t touch people who don’t touch you’ and ‘if they don’t react well to being touched don’t touch them’ might get through to some people who would otherwise not think, or who think social distancing was just a pandemic thing that doesn’t exist any more, and is progress in itself – noting that *lack of touch* is also part of *touch*, insofar as ‘I respect you enough to not touch you without your permission’ and ‘I noticed that when Fergus touched you you pulled away so I will not touch you’ and ‘I am waiting for you to acknowledge you know I am here before I hand you this document, which I will do in a way that minimises the chances of directly touching you’ also communicate things.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    I had never heard of this book in either version. Is it the latest fad? Mostly I am struck by the idea of the latest workplace woo being a modified version of, um… wooing woo. Also, great happiness that I don’t have to face either version.

    1. Nonsense*

      The love languages book has been around for a while now – it’s the BS that spawned “men’s love language is intimacy (sex) and having things done for him (housework) and women’s love language is physical items (jewelry)!”

      If you can’t tell, in addition to being very homophobic, it’s also sexist to an absurdly offensive degree. Oh, and it was written by a religious relationship “counselor”, so we can add horribly conservative and outdated rhetoric to the issues.

      1. Lisa*

        The basic idea that “different people have different preferences for what makes them feel loved/appreciated” is good. The actual execution of the book is terrible and possibly harmful.

        1. Anonym*

          Yeah, as with so many books, especially self help ones, there’s an article-length useful idea and then 200 pages of (in this case deeply problematic) useless dreck.

        2. HonorBox*

          I think there’s something to be said for how people feel appreciated. I had a staff member tell me once that to her, words of affirmation were far more appreciated and impactful to her than any sort of physical gift. So rather than get her a Starbucks gift card to say thanks, I’d sit down and write an actual thank you note.

          Is this something that needs a whole book? No. But it is worth finding out from people you work with how they like to be shown appreciation. Because it isn’t the same for everyone and isn’t always feasible to say “I appreciate you this many dollars worth.”

          1. Emily H*

            I really disagree with the idea that a love language is something a person HAS, rather than something that grows out of a particular situation.

            Acts of service make me feel loved, not because I have a love language, but because I’m exhausted and I don’t want to do the laundry. Quality time makes me feel loved if I enjoy spending time with the person and they plan things that are enjoyable to do. Words of affirmation make me feel loved only if I think the person knows me well enough to have an opinion on whether my tomato salad is the best (and, of course, isn’t lying.) A gift makes me feel love if it comes from an understanding of what I would appreciate. It’s based on my current emotions and my current needs, not some particular orientation or personality trait that’s inherent in who I am.

            1. Quill*

              I feel like so much of pop psychology as applied to relationships and business is inventing stystematic, marketable ways to get out of giving people what they NEED. Whether that’s rest (by doing the laundry) or money, there’s always someone willing to get paid to say “actually my totally scientific / ancient wisdom / secret alien knowledge book will tell you that you don’t need to do that, you need to do something more convenient for YOU!”

              1. Stalking Survivor*

                Yes. This. Right here.

                Hell, compensation and workload aside, I’ve had workplaces where management has thought that they could get around systemic problems with transparency and communication by *occasionally* praising someone’s work. Like, you just yelled at that person for not automagically knowing that the TPS reports now get signed off by Fred instead of Barbara like they’ve always been. You can’t make up for that by saying “good work on the Drexler account!” and walking away.

            2. Anonymoose*

              Great point. It’s also very much relationship-based. The way I want to be appreciated by my sister is NOT the same way I want to be appreciated by my boss.

              1. Project Maniac-ger*

                That’s what immediately freaked me out – this entire framework is made for a husband and wife. The most intimate of relationships. Intimacy is NOT what I want to foster in workplace relationships. Kindness and respect, yes,! but I was already getting grossed out before LW mentioned the touch thing.

            3. Freya*

              Like the ex who bought me a rose because All Girls Like Roses but it had no scent so I was pretty meh, vs my husband who picks me street flowers occasionally when he walks the dog and chooses the rose with the most scent (the most recent one has been scenting my kitchen for the last week) or a flower that has something else about it that he’s listened when I burbled about it.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, I despise this book. It’s basically become an excuse for “you need to do X for me because that’s the only way I can possibly know that you love me”. I have heard so many people (mostly men) say “My love language is acts of service because I like when people do stuff for me”. The other side of that coin is that it is also supposed to mean that they express love through doing things for other people, but that somehow gets lost *eye roll*

        Or the double layered “My love language is acts of service because people do stuff for me, and I respond in words of affirmation, i.e., I remember to say thanks.” That’s not love, that’s wanting a personal assistant!

        1. LunaLena*

          Haha, that reminds me of an AITA post where the OP said that their love language was “receiving gifts” and therefore her significant other should be buying her expensive gifts all the time and was she an AH for expecting that?

          It never ceases to amaze me how creative the human mind is at co-opting anything and everything for its own benefit.

        2. JustMe*

          It has been a number of years since my workplace indoctrinated us with the workplace version of this book, but if I remember correctly, your “expressive” and “receptive” love languages can and often are entirely different. I might express work love through acts of service, helping others. But to receive help might give me shame, and instead I might feel work love via quality time with my colleagues or managers.

          This is just examples. But they put huge pressure on us middle scapegoat level supervisors to implement the individualized approach to each of our direct reports. At least until they bought into the next pseudoscience program.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I admit I didn’t read the whole book, but it seems like those are bad-faith readings. It’s supposed to be how to make your SO feel appreciated by noticing all the things they do and what types of affection they appreciate the most, isn’t it?

        1. Emily H*

          It is merely very heteronormative (assumes that all romantic pairings consist of one man and one woman). The author, however, has said some stuff that is… well, about what you’d expect from an Evangelical Christian who doesn’t like homosexuality but also doesn’t want to alienate either his Christian audience or his secular audience.

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          His Love Languages website has answers to reader questions, where he instructs parents of gay/lesbian children to tell them about how they (parents) love them (the kids) but that they are disappointed as homosexuality is wrong due to being against God’s will, and also that the children should probably seek out counseling to understand this.

          The books basically assume that all romantic relationships are straight ones.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Remember that old “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”? It’s the modern day version of that.

        (Also, men doing housework in a typical heterosexual marriage is like the biggest turn-on for many women, so he’s objectively wrong there.)

        1. Lemon Bars*

          The 5 Love Languages was published 2 years before Men are from Mars. It just had a slow burn and became more popular in recent years.

          1. Goldfeesh*

            I was happily thinking for a second that 30-some years ago was still considered “modern day.” Yeah, I remember when it was the new big thing on the Oprah types of talk shows.

        2. Part time lab tech*

          Early in my marriage, I came home after work expecting to wash dishes and my husband had already done them. Can confirm he received affectionate touch.

      4. RagingADHD*

        Uh, anyone is welcome to dislike the book for whatever reasons, and it does seem pretty overwrought and eye-rolly to think it needed a work edition. But if you are under the impression that this book spawned that stereotype about sex and jewelry, you are decades if not centuries off. It predates the book and possibly the author’s birth by a very long time.

        The edition of the book I read actually directly contradicts that stereotype by encouraging people to talk, listen, and observe their partner (or kids, or coworkers, depending on the volume) rather than make assumptions about what is meaningful to them. That’s kind of the whole point of the book series? Not to make assumptions about what matters to other people based on what matters to you or what you’ve heard, but taking the time to find out about them as individuals.

        It’s a really, really basic concept, and of course there isn’t really any “science” to back it up. It’s just empathy and recognizing differences. I suppose it’s arguable whether such a basic concept needed a whole book series to explain it, but I guess it wouldn’t be popular if somebody didn’t find it a helpful way of explaining the idea.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Exactly. People seem to be mad in the way the book is interpreted by a number of problematic people rather than the actual book.

          The book is problematic in its undertones, but on the surface, is 90% fine and doesn’t make assumptions based on gender, or even sexuality. The other 10% is yucky, but I could still use the rest of in in some ways in my life.

          It can be a useful tool in romantic relationships. Once I found that my husband positively glows when given words of encouragement, it’s helpful to me when I know he’s feeling down. *shrug*

        2. Spero*

          I don’t think it spawned the stereotype, but I think it gave it a lifeline just as it was becoming unacceptable to say all women are materialistic because of their gender. Along came book to say, women lean towards x love language so I’m not being sexist if I say they x, I’m accommodating their love language. Net effect was same dressed up in different clothes.

        3. Awkwardness*

          This. I read the book more than 20 years ago, and I really liked that it took the focus from what I prefer to give (as in MY love language) to what my friend, partner, family member needs to feel loved (THEIR love language) and vice versa. And if I remember correctly, it also addresses misconceptions as physical touch always being the language of men.

          So for OP, if anybody wants to touch you when you have not made clear that this is your appreciation language, then they did not understand the concept. It is about fulfilling the need of the recipient, not the sender.

    2. Iris Eyes*

      Worse, its a perennial favorite. Like millions of copies sold over the past several decades level popular.

    3. Sleeping Beauty*

      The original love languages book came out in 1992 but I guess they’re trying to get as much money out of the IP as possible.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      I would file it under “another pseudoscience approach that some people find helpful and become determined to apply to all situations, all the time, regardless of actual applicability or, you know, science.”

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      It was written in 1992 and was (and continues) to be a bestseller despite all the issues with it. The podcast “If Books Could Kill” did an episode on it where they look into the actual science and such that the author claims is behind it (spoiler: there’s none!).

    6. Person from the Resume*

      It’s been around since 1992 .. for relationships.

      I found the book helpful to realize for myself and articulate that my primary love languages are quality time and acts of service and definitely not gifts. (I am a woman BTW.) And to realize that others may not actually believe that a small “thinking of you” gift is a big waste of money. I am actively annoyed to have someone gift me something to become clutter in my home.

      I have done anything except read the initial book. I’m don’t recall noticing it was particularly homophobic or sexists, but I read it about 25 years ago. And then there have been all kinds of spin offs of the initial book. Anytime you start generalizing “women prefer this” and “men prefer that” you’re making things sexist.

      1. mli0531*

        Full Disclosure: I have never read the book. I am also a woman married to a man.

        We found the concepts useful as it made it clear we had very different preferences in how we want to give/receive love. I definitely prefer words of affirmation/acts of service and he prefers touch (like 90%+). We have navigated what that means for US. and god forbid anyone try this bullshit at work. 10000% YUCK.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          I agree that is should not apply to work at all … it’s LOVE languages for romantic and personal LOVING relationships.

          But I am surprised to hear how terrible (sexist and homophobic) so many people find it, so now I wonder if the problems are in the initial book/underlying idea or perhaps in the spin offs that were probably just money grabs.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            The initial book only spoke of relationships between a woman and a man, and I believe most of the examples given were verrry stereotypical of “traditional” gender roles (25 years ago I probably would not have clocked any of that). That’s not meant to discount people who have found it helpful in understanding themselves/their partner, just context to know.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      Like so many things, it’s got a baseline idea that makes sense to think about–maybe the actions that make you feel loved, and the actions that make your friends and family feel loved, aren’t the same. So your mom absolutely loves cards and your grandmother doesn’t care for them. One of your kids wants hugs and one responds to verbal affirmation.

      1. Different Shine*

        I’ve heard it called the”The Platinum Rule”. Loosely paraphrased: “Do unto others as they want to be done to”– which is not necessarily what you would want done to you.

  6. NYCRedhead*

    I would love to see a discussion group where every single person says their work love language is “tangible gifts.”

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Then we’ll get managers writing in and saying “but we gave them all this company-branded swag and $10 Starbucks gift cards and they’re still unhappy!”

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m amazed how resistant some managers can be to being told how their employees want to receive praise/recognition.
        The VP was moaning on and on about something about recognition and I said “the team would really like to hear “good job”.”
        “Oh, the CEO doesn’t believe in that.”
        “OK, but could you say it? Or could the Director say it? It doesn’t even have to be in a meeting with other people, just some acknowledgement of successful completion of a complex task?”
        “No one understands how hard my job is…”

        Like, dude, I gave you a completely free option to improve morale and you threw it in the trash.

    2. KHB*

      Is a “work love language” necessarily limited to the employer-employee relationship, though? I don’t have any influence over my colleagues’ salaries, but I like to express to them when I think they’ve done a great job, and I like when they express that to me. On a healthy team, I’d think that expressions of appreciation would go in all directions.

      I don’t know anything about the original “love languages” book (from a skim through the comments, it sounds problematic), so I don’t know whether it’s the right framework to adapt to “appreciation languages” in the workplace. But wanting to talk about appreciation languages in the workplace is not inherently stupid.

      1. Observer*

        But wanting to talk about appreciation languages in the workplace is not inherently stupid.

        Yeah, although what Allison describes is mostly marketing fluff as she says. The thing is that finding appropriate ways to show appreciation really cannot include touch. *Especially* to the point that they suggest!

        That’s the real issue here.

      2. Kes*

        Yeah, I don’t think talking about different appreciation languages in the work place is a bad idea (and in spite of what grandparent post is saying, I do think there’s a range – some people value public acknowledgement of their work, others prefer private acknowledgement, some prefer a gift, some prefer cash bonus).
        But trying to take love languages from a relationship context and shoehorn it into a work context doesn’t work because the situation, goal and context are totally different. You’re not trying to get close to someone (in fact a good work relationship in a sense doesn’t get too close or we risk getting into the conflict of interest area), you’re trying to get along with multiple people and get work done successfully. Touch is not appropriate. Even quality time – sure, it’s good and often important to spend time with your boss and coworkers, but a boss doesn’t generally reward an employee by spending time with them

        1. MigraineMonth*

          A bit of flexibility is good (some employees would prefer a cash card, others a gift card, others a gift item, others a food item, for example), but it would be problematic if bosses treated their employees very differently.

          I somehow doubt the Equal Pay Act has a carve-out for “Sarah’s work appreciation language is words of appreciation, but Mike’s is cash bonuses” or “Mike and Mitchel’s work appreciation language is quality time, that’s why just the three of us went golfing on the weekend.”

      3. Smithy*

        Yes – to me this is something where both things can be true? The book can both be part of a marketing campaign to sell a system AND identifying meaningful ways to appreciate your colleagues and direct reports can be of value.

        In the sense of tangible rewards, my manager can only really give comp time – and while that is something she’ll do, it’s also something of fluctuating value. We’re staff that’s salaried, so while giving the occasional half day or comp day is appreciated – things like letting us out an hour or two more often doesn’t resonate in the same way. And over time would also get diluted.

        And so thinking through ways of communicating “great job” that resonate over the year I do think is valuable. Because for everyone who really doesn’t want a high five, I know there are other people who find “shout outs” of people doing a good job uncomfortable. Putting money aside since it’s not an option, quite frankly quality time with my supervisor and physical touch (i.e. a high five) probably are my preferred options from that list.

  7. HonorBox*

    Early in my career, I attended a workshop that featured a talk about proper business etiquette. The speaker mentioned that touching people could be extremely problematic and that you had to KNOW FOR SURE if someone was OK with any sort of physical contact. If we’re coopting love languages for workplace, we also need to bring in the same for consent. Do you KNOW FOR SURE someone appreciates a hug, a squeeze on the shoulder, a fist bump? Then feel free. But unless you have express opt in, I think you err on the side of not touching.

    1. ferrina*

      I recently had a coworker ask in advance if I was okay with hugs.
      I loved that she did that, and I respected her so much for that question!

      1. HonorBox*

        Such a great way to handle that! Lots of people, even those who wouldn’t prefer a hug, love to get one at the right time, and asking first makes is so much better for everyone involved.

        1. La Triviata*

          A work friend was having a bad day and I asked if a hug would help. THEN I hugged her.

          Also, an Orthodox rabbi gave a talk at my church and I asked him if it was all right to shake hands.

          See, not hard at all.

      2. A Significant Tree*

        I’ve been asked if I’m okay receiving a hug (more due to Covid-awareness than personal space at the time, I think). Still, I appreciated being given the choice.

        I’ve also been asked to *give* someone (the asker) a hug when they were upset and I did NOT like that. It was definitely in the vein of “manage my feelings for me.” I still had a choice but was set up to feel that saying no would be cruel. I’m not anti-hug, I’m anti-emotional blackmail.

      3. How We Laughed*

        Yup. I’m not a big hugger, but I have hugged many of my current coworkers because they always ask first!

    2. mli0531*

      Yesterday, I sent my boss a hug emoji via instant messenger and caveated with “if this is okay” because even over the internet I don’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable. She said it was cool (She has also been under a ton of pressure/stress and I wanted to express my support).

      Again, not hard.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah I’m sorry but militant huggers are the absolute worst. I once had two volunteers that I actually enjoyed working with during their first shift. But at the end they went to hug me and I stepped back and said “Hey thanks but I’m not a hugger.” They both completely ignored me, hugged me, and said “But we are! You’ll just have to get used to it.”

      We never formed a good relationship after that. I went out of my way to avoid them. Not that I need a reason to not like being hugged but I was a survivor of violence. Freaked me right TF out.

    4. Sled Dog Mama*

      Absolutely! touch should be opt-in in the work place and really everywhere in life.
      I’ve been asking my kid for her consent to wash her private parts since she was 3, and sometimes she says no (she’s 100% clear that parts must get washed and if she says no then she must) because I want her to know that she can say no and that no should be respected.

    5. LunaLena*

      As someone whose love language is touch, I totally agree that touching should involve enthusiastic consent. To me, touching is a culturally- and biologically-ingrained act of intimacy, so I’m very uncomfortable if someone I don’t know well deliberately touches me or tries to (incidental contact is fine though). I so very much appreciate that I now work in a place where people ask before hugging and respect others’ space; this definitely has not always been the case in the past.

  8. No Tribble At All*

    The juxtaposition of the previous post being “I caught two managers in a compromising position” — sounds like they figured out their workplace appreciation language *was* touch, har har har

        1. Quill*

          As the years go by, have we formed a club of people who know about (and talk about) duck club?

    1. RVA Cat*

      At least they had consent.
      I immediately thought of all the creeps and jerks seeing an excuse to harass people. The HR implications were already awful but then we add the “covid is just a cold” crowd to spread germs like they’re toddlers.

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        My immediate thought is the creeps who would use this to say massaging their female employees shoulders is A-OK because that is their language.

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      My mind went to the dog from yesterday’s letter. The dog was trying to show his appreciation! Not his fault that biting is his workplace love language!

      Seriously though, why reinvent the wheel when we already have raises and gift cards and employee of the month awards and putting the person on a career path that they want and exciting projects and… and… Admittedly, all of this costs the company money, either right away or in the long term. And a managerial fist bump is totally free! smh

  9. Sleeping Beauty*

    I felt my body student just reading that. It is also wild that they would say that many people objected to this option and none were strongly for it but they’re keeping it anyways.

      1. Nonsense*

        No no, I think you’re onto something. It invoked memories of pop quizzes and the sudden realization of a term paper due at 9am and it’s almost midnight.

        1. Abundant Shrimp*

          Can confirm, I skipped a lot of classes as student, and while reading that, my body did in fact feel like sneaking out the nearest door and never coming back.

      2. ferrina*

        Wow, I was worried that your first sentence was an early application of the touch love language.

        Seriously, if no one wants your “sign of appreciation”, then it’s not exactly a way to help people feel appreciated.

    1. Observer*

      I felt my body student just reading that.

      Me too. Just UGH!

      It is also wild that they would say that many people objected to this option and none were strongly for it but they’re keeping it anyways.

      Of course! Because they know better than all of the people who they are graciously educating about how to communicate. (not)

  10. Bird Lady*

    I do not like to be touched by strangers or random people that I work with. I don’t even like to be touched by close friends and family at times.

    And yet.

    My mentor and manager came to me privately to discuss her retirement that would be announced shortly. She wanted me, and a few select people to know about it, before it became public knowledge. I’m not a crier at work, but I guess I looked like I was about to cry. I certainly felt like I might.

    She asked if it was okay to give me a hug, knowing that my preferred method of existence was no touching. And I accepted, and it was the best thing I could have done. So I think there’s a lot to talk about concerning consent and the relationship you have with the colleague.

    1. Ashley*

      It is interesting when people are leaving a hug can seem ok, but in years of working with them never ever ok.
      I did realize the other time I have hugged co-workers is at funerals… though there are some that still get the nod and not even a handshake.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I have a friend/former boss and I think the only time I’ve ever really touched her was a good-bye hug!

        …you can guess where I stand on physical touch as a language of appreciation at work or anywhere.

      2. Abundant Shrimp*

        My work had an informal happy hour thing recently, that followed four years of remote work and several waves of mass exodus, so people hadn’t seen each other in person in, in some cases, years. There was a lot of hugging! But none of us had ever hugged each other while at work, and I am sure we would’ve all much preferred for things to stay that way. This was a one-off reunion type of thing. (Also, there was alcohol.)

    2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Yeah, if it was strictly confined to handshakes, fist bumps, and the ilk, I probably wouldn’t mind it. I’m not a touchy-feely person and don’t really enjoy random touching. (Pats on the arm/back, hugs, etc.) I wouldn’t want to express my love language that way- and why are we expressing “love” languages at work anyway? How I express myself at work is wildly different than I express myself at home (much fewer pajamas and pillow forts *unfortunately*).

      I once had a boss who had a habit of leaning on the back of my office chair and he didn’t believe me that it upset the balance of my chair, therefore making me really unstable and uncomfortable. I had to tell him multiple times before he finally got it- so yeah, just leave people to the personal space if at all possible and not intrude on them unless they agree to it explicitly. I kind of like those videos of little children greeting their teachers and I think they have 4 options- high five, fist bump, hug, and no touch. The kids choose the greeting they want that day (day specific, not a blanket school year thing). Some of the kids choose no touch and it was respected. Seems like the best plan.

      1. Some Words*

        The less we deal with each other face to face, the less *able* we are to deal with each other.

        Homo Sapiens is a gregarious species.

        1. How We Laughed*

          But there’s a spectrum. No two humans are alike- personally, the less I have to deal with unwanted touch, the more likely I am to respond to people who courteously request touch.

        2. Through Being Cool*

          I have no trouble ‘dealing’ with other people, I am a contact center worker; I never see my customers anyway. Email and phone contact to them are not affected, nor are my chat messages and emails internally.
          Those I wish to see IRL are my choice.

  11. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    Part of me now wants Allison to come up with some sarcastic new spins on the books she’s already written. “How to Lose a Job: Secrets of Bad Employees and Even Worse Managers” or “Ask a Micromanager: How to Chase Away Effective Employees, Kill Morale, and Ruin Everyone’s Life at Work”

    1. Jessica*

      it’s Demotivating Alison! From the same parallel universe as Evil Spock with the goatee.

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      I’ll buy that for myself and give it out to everyone I know as holiday gifts.

    3. anonymous anteater*

      For the ‘touch as appreciation language’ I would include some recommendations on the art of the noseboop.

  12. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Wow. Yes, let’s test out someone’s trauma response to touch (maybe they don’t stiffen but instead go into freeze or fawn, or automatic compliance, which you’ll never notice). Great freaking idea.

    They should have said to stay away from touch unless someone initiates it with you first. The power dynamics (and unseen other reactions that have no business being touched on at work) too great otherwise.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, let’s test out someone’s trauma response to touch (maybe they don’t stiffen but instead go into freeze or fawn, or automatic compliance, which you’ll never notice). Great freaking idea.

      Thanks for this! That piece was really eating at me but I didn’t have the right words for this. But you put it so well. Even if it’s not technically “trauma”, it’s a lot to risk for no good reason.

      The power dynamics (and unseen other reactions that have no business being touched on at work) too great otherwise.

      Yes. Each one is a really big issue on its own. The two together? No x 1million

    2. EmmaPoet*

      This was my thought. Also, I can definitely see (general) creepy coworkers taking this as an excuse to let their fingers do the talking, to mangle a phrase. “My love language is touch, so I should totally get to give my women coworkers shoulder massages (that stray down the chest)!”

    3. not nice, don't care*

      My trauma response to unexpected/unwanted touching is reflexively violent. Experiencing physical assaults has some aftereffects.

    4. Quill*

      Touching someone unexpectedly is a great way to find whatever they were holding applied to your person with great force.

    5. 1LFTW*

      To say nothing of people who have physical pain. Clasp my shoulder on a bad day and I’ll be hurting. There’s just no reason to touch me at work.

  13. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I am a touchy-feely person and was so happy when a coworker hugged me to thank me for something last week. I also fully recognize that many people do not like to be touched and I rein it in heavily at work unless I know for a fact that the other person is also A Hugger.
    I really would love to see someone at your company tell leadership to ‘Touch my bank account if you want me to feel appreciated.’
    Good grief.

    1. Essentially Cheesy*

      I do have a couple minor touchy-feely tendencies (gentle pats on the shoulder really) and I work so hard to not do it.

      I’m pretty sure that not touching people at work (outside of hand shakes) is a thing!

    2. Spiritbrand*

      I am a big hugger, but I just don’t do it outside of home anymore due to the outstanding number of people who would hug me and then casually mention how sick they are.

      1. Ella bee bee*

        I am a very huggy person. I don’t know that much about the 5 Love Languages, but I would guess mine is touch. But only in my personal relationships! Even being someone who loves touch, the idea of it at work is just really off-putting. Even something like a shoulder squeeze or pat on the back feels weird to me. I’m sure there are people who appreciate this at work, but I am surprised they would include it. Especially after putting so many disclaimers in the book about how people don’t like it!

  14. HailRobonia*

    To quote the great Hubert J. Farnsworth: “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”

  15. MissTery*

    Touch me at work once and I will tell you to never do it again. Touch me at work twice and I will make a formal complaint.

    1. Skippy*

      And if the person who grabs your arms and pins them or touches you *is* HR, bad scene.

  16. Angela Martin*

    Actually this makes me think of an employee who refused to shake hands with some genders, and we decided that she either shook hands with them, or she wasn’t free to keep working here. She claimed it was for religious purposes of course, but we’re a touchy feelie office, and it makes some people feel excluded to not get the same “touch” as everyone else, just based on one person’s claimed religious beliefs (muslim, not that it matters).

      1. amoeba*

        On the other hand, gender discrimination would also open you up to that, so there we are. (Yes, her not touching anybody would probably have been the better solution!)

        1. Angela Martin*

          This exactly. She’d already shaken hands with the men and women on the team, but our new non-gendered employee was a bridge too far? In our house, we practice inclusion.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I think the better option would be that she shakes no one’s hand.

      I don’t love the idea of mandated touch.

      1. Czhorat*

        She shakes nobody’s hand is a VERY simple and reasonable solution.

        I recall my last in-person meeting in the early days of Covid; the person I was meeting with started to offer a handshake, and I stepped back and made a semi-awkward bowing type of gesture, which he returned. For a moment we all seem to have been moving away from the handshake.

        I get that it’s back, but we REALLY need to normalize not shaking hands. And if you won’t shake Jane’s hand then you shouldn’t shake John’s.

      2. ferrina*

        This. She can’t apply a policy based on gender, and you can’t decide that her religion is invalid. Simple solution- no handshakes from this person. Her religion is adhered to and no gender discrimination takes place.

        (also, what’s with the mandatory handshake policy? That’s just weird.)

        1. HappyPenguin*

          I worked for a family run doctor’s office (literally the most toxic place I’ve ever worked, and I hope to share in a letter to Alison soon), and they mandated that front desk staff had to shake hands with patients when checking them in. Even ignoring the touch-factor, it was a derm office and many patients had visible skin issues on their hands or arms. When my eczema flares on my fingers, I certainly don’t want to call attention to it by shaking someone’s hand. Ridiculous policy.

    2. NeedsMoreCookies*

      There are several conservative religious faiths that frown upon opposite-sex unrelated people touching, even for a handshake. I think you might risk a religious discrimination lawsuit if the physical contact isn’t a bonafide job requirement (like, say, massage therapy, or fire rescue)

    3. bamcheeks*

      just based on one person’s claimed religious beliefs

      I am fascinated to know where you’re based that “respecting people’s religious beliefs” isn’t a basic legal requirement!

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s also a basic moral requirement.

        That said, “religious beliefs” can’t allow you to engage in gender-based discrimination, and that should mean treating men, women, and others the same way. If you won’t shake hands with a non-man then don’t shake hands with a man either.

      2. Cubicles & Chimeras*

        The “claimed religious beliefs” feels also a bit like a problem too. Like, did they not think they were muslim enough to opt out of shaking hands? That they made up being muslim? Why on earth is “claimed” in there, it’s their religious beliefs full stop.

    4. peter b*

      This really crosses the line and is incredibly rude toward that employee. Shaking hands with some people and not others on the basis of gender has an obvious non-religious discrimination response of asking her not to shake hands with anybody! That’s also equal treatment and to pressure people into touching coworkers when they don’t want to (!!!) is super gross. This is a really terrible anecdote, especially calling it “claimed” religious belief.

    5. Ace in the Hole*

      I think the key here is “with some genders.”

      It’s totally appropriate to require an all or nothing approach to something like handshakes. You can tell someone they can’t refuse handshakes on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc. On the other hand, I think if the employee wants to handle it by opting out of ALL handshakes, that’s a reasonable accommodation and should be respected.

    6. Llellayena*

      What ever happened to “oh, thank you, but I don’t shake hands”? This can be used for ANY reason: religion, germs, hand injury (and I know there was a letter on that one in the archives), knowing the person has a clammy-icky handshake, basically ANYTHING. And none of those reasons (except MAYBE the last one) should be held against you even if the office has a “shake hands to greet” culture. Your idea of pushing someone out because she doesn’t shake hands for a very valid reason is not smart and you probably lost out on a great employee. You also opened the door to a claim of religious discrimination because not shaking hands does not prevent anyone from doing their job. By stating you were excluded by her NOT shaking hands you have now excluded HER based on the guidelines of her religion. Her reason is protected, yours is not.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For the record: That was illegal. You can require someone to shake hands with no one if they aren’t going to shake hands with everyone, but you cannot require them to violate a religious principle unless it caused undue hardship for the business (which I can tell you with certainty this wouldn’t have qualified as).

    8. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      So you made her feel excluded to avoid other people not feeling excluded? Her religious beliefs are her beliefs called them claimed is dismissive.

    9. Rainy*

      I…uh…your leadership made a bad decision. Wow.

      Also, you might not be aware, but that dismissive tone toward other people’s religions isn’t the greatest look. “…claimed it was for religious purposes of course” “claimed religious beliefs” “(muslim, not that it matters)”

  17. I should really pick a name*

    There are…issues…with the book, but the central concept is very useful. “Different people communicate and receive love/affection in different ways.”

    In practice, I sometimes see it applied in a self-centered way. Basically “this is my love language, so you have to accept that this is the way I do things whether it works for you or not”. As opposed to “This is how I like to receive/communicate affection, what do you prefer? How can we combine these methods to make sure we both feel appreciated”.

    I have considerable side-eye for a workplace that assigns this (even the workplace version) as a reading.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yes, there are ways that it can be used that are helpful. Mostly in personal relationships. Less so at work!

      I also am a huggy person, but ONLY with close friends, I have about two co-workers I hug sometimes, and only when I see them outside work – it’s not like I walk into the office and hug folks left and right.

      1. HonorBox*

        I mentioned above that a staff member once told me that she’d much prefer words of affirmation over a physical gift. That changed how I approached things with her certain times, opting for a hand written thank you (which I saw posted in her cube) over a Starbucks gift card. Knowing was helpful to me as her manager.

        I think it does trend more toward personal relationships, but managers knowing how their team prefers to receive gratitude and appreciation.

        1. AnonORama*

          It could fit into a generalized “communication styles” conversation, without the romance background and without the touch. We’ve discussed, for example, who prefers email vs. who’d rather you just stopped by — some people want a quick exchange, and others dislike interruption and/or want something in writing. This was actually helpful, or at least made me understand that people aren’t randomly hovering in my office doorway to be irritating. And it would be interesting to know how others want to be appreciated, although I’d probably say “a raise” or “a chance to use more than two of my 20 days off.”

        2. ThatGirl*

          Sure – we did a “communications style” quiz as a company when I first started here, I still have the weird blocks on my desk – but that’s a little different and never once mentions anyone touching me.

        3. JustaTech*

          See, that’s good management right there: your staff person was comfortable enough with you to explain that she preferred words of affirmation, and you honored her request.

    2. Bunch Harmon*

      My MIL applies in the self-centered way you mentioned. She loves to shop and claims her love language is giving gifts. And then buys me things I don’t need or want even after I’ve told her no. She claims she can do it because it’s her love language. She doesn’t get it when I tell her that she’s still violating my consent (and making more work for me when I have to deal with returning or rehoming her gifts).

      1. Rainy*

        Hilariously, the book actually intends for that to happen. The whole point is for people to be able to force other people to endure things they don’t want “because that’s my love language”.

        If you are still having issues with her on this, there are some tried and true methods for discouraging unwanted gifts (it’s straight out of the bad MIL playbook), including refusing to take them with you, putting them back into her car before she leaves if she’s at yours, all the way to making uncomfortable eye contact and throwing them in the trash unopened.

    3. Observer*

      There are…issues…with the book, but the central concept is very useful. “Different people communicate and receive love/affection in different ways.”

      There are umpteen ways to express that concept, though. And the minute you get to the stuff quoted here, it’s clear that both their expression of the concept and their judgement in general is just bad. So bad that I would never want to see anyone following their guidance in the workplace (or outside of it, either for that matter.)

    4. Ace in the Hole*

      Same as a lot of these sort of things. It’s helpful in a generic way for people who don’t realize that others may have different ways of communicating, different preferences/needs, etc. But it’s often misapplied.

    5. Dear Prudence*

      God, I hate the concept of “love language.” If you must invoke it, save it for your close friends and relatives. The workplace is a place to use professional language, not “love language.”

  18. ferrina*

    Where does autonomy and flexibility fit into this ‘appreciation language’? A lot of employees feel more appreciated (and have higher loyalty) to employers that allows them to flex time and location (as the job allows). That is nowhere in this model.
    That is a deeply unimpressive lack of research.

  19. Jm*

    Longtime reader; I just ‘saw myself’ as a person who gives back pats and arm touches in social settings. I’m otherwise pretty proper but need to vow to do better

    1. Cubicles & Chimeras*

      I do want to say Jm:

      I appreciate you considering this! If it’s hard to switch off the touching thing, try the high five/fist bump thing. For those of us touch adverse, it’s the difference between an unanticipated touch and an anticipated one that we can mentally prepare for. Plus gives people an opt out if they don’t want to be touched at all.

      1. EngineeringFun*

        Jm, me too buddy! I’m a big high 5er! I work in tech but also coach small children. I’ll work on this too!

  20. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Ugh. Considering the origins of the 5 Love Languages (husband trying to convince wife she was supposed to serve him because that was her love language while his was taking), not surprised they kept touch in there. It’s all about what the giver wants, not the receiver.

    1. Awkwardness*

      Several people have commented like this and I am starting to wonder if we have actually read the same book.
      It is about the making the receiver feel loved and communicating in the language of the receiver.

  21. soontoberetired*

    My former director told me they can only give someone a pat on the arm or a light tap on the back, and that’s it. Came up when my brother died and he really wanted to give me a hug and I actually appreciated he didn’t try. But knowing our HR had very specific rules on this made me happy. It is the way to do it.

    1. Zelda*

      “a pat on the arm or a light tap on the back”

      Still way too much for me. Anything above the wrist is too far into my personal space and is going to make my skin crawl and throw off my mental equilibrium for hours. Those “very specific rules” are pretty misguided, IMO.

  22. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s the fundamental fallacy with Love Languages.

    When someone says, “My Office or Love Language is touch. I touch everyone but no one touches me back.” But stating your love language doesn’t *entitle* you to receive anything. You can demand to be loved or praised in a specific way, but you’re not entitled to that response from others. See: all the people who leave jobs when they don’t get raises.

    Love Languages aren’t scientific or evidence-based and they don’t account for abuse either so there’s that.

  23. Hotdog not dog*

    No. Just No. The only time I want to be touched at work is if the building is on fire and I have collapsed. Then I would hope someone grabs me to drag me outside.
    If you want to let me know I’m appreciated, then say so (if you’re my colleague) or pay me (if you’re my boss.)

  24. night cheese*

    There’s a great podcast called “If Books Could Kill” where the hosts discuss and dismantle popular “airport reads.” They did an episode on this book, and I highly recommend it. It’s co-hosted by Michael Hobbes (of “You’re Wrong About” and “Maintenance Phase”) and Peter Shamshiri (co-host of the 5-4 podcast about the Supreme Court – the podcast that got him fired from his law firm!)

    1. night cheese*

      Sorry, it wasn’t a law firm – he was in-house counsel at an insurance company.

  25. Ihmmy*

    oof, that’s deeply unpleasant. One thing I really like at work of a similar but much improved vein is we have a list (self entered) of favourite things – like candies/snacks/beverages, but also how you like to be appreciated. This works especially well since some folks want louder accolades and others want no public praise but a sticky note or IM appreciating their hard work.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      Now this would be a useful way of showing appreciation that people would end up liking. Random hugs would not be.

  26. Insert Pun Here*

    I don’t super mind a friendly hug from certain people/in certain circumstances, but like…I would still rather have more money. (In the work context, not a statement about life overall.)

  27. Dieselguy*

    Rule number one of the “love” or “appreciation” languages within the work place: It is ALWAYS about the receiver, not the giver. The point of learning this is to be a more effective manager or better coworker. You learn the language of your coworkers and than show appreciation to them where they are. (I would still exclude touch, outside of handshakes and the like). Enforcing your personal language on others is a bad move and shows a lack of outward awareness.

    1. ferrina*

      Nah, communication is always a two-way street. It’s about two parties finding a way to bridge a void through common ground, understanding, and (ideally) mutual respect. If one person isn’t a toucher, the rule is not to touch. The whole idea is to know what you can be flexible about instead of assuming that what you prefer/do most frequently is the Undisputed Norm. It creates a range of communications so that individuals can adapt to each other and bring out different aspects of each other. The idea is not to rip down boundaries at one party’s preference. It’s okay to say “X is a non-starter for me, but Y is okay”. That’s how negotiations and building common ground works.

      tldr; either party can nope out of touching, and that is okay and very valid.

    2. Awkwardness*

      Ha! So my memory was not clouded, it is about the receiver. I was quite confused about some of the comments.

  28. Czhorat*

    The problematic nature of “Five love languages ” and the extreme ick if using “touch” as an appopriate “appreciation language” at work nothwithstanding, there *is* an actual point here; it’s sad that it gets buried in such poor framing.

    There are different things that motivate different employees, and even the same employees at different points in their career.

    Does the status of a higher-level title matter to someone?
    More responsibility?
    more flexibility in terms of schedule?
    Visibility to outside clients and/or the public?
    Close collaboration?
    Socialization with colleagues?
    Higher pay?
    More paid time off?

    I think it’s very easy to just say “show appreciation with MONEY” but that’s reductive; even though we all ARE at work for the paycheck there are other aspects that motivate us. Part of effective management is learning what works best for everyone on your team.

    But not only is “physical touch” not it, but borrowing language from a romantic relationship book has really poor connotations for the workplace.

    1. HonorBox*

      Agree that we are all at work for money. And I think we’ve seen lots of people here who would say that appreciation should come in the form of cash. But showing appreciation can’t always come in the form of money. Your post has a good list of things that can motivate people, and appreciation doesn’t always have to have a dollar value associated.

      Now, do I want a hug from my boss if I do a great job landing a new client? Nope. But there other things that would show his appreciation when I know that dollars aren’t feasible.

      1. AnonORama*

        Like this list! Related to more time off would be ability to take your time off. And related to that, cross-training of one or more other folks so there’s not a “team of one” who can never take off. This isn’t always possible, and it’s probably getting a bit far afield of what the original post was meant for. That said, I know I’d appreciate this, as would several people I work with.

    2. Observer*

      it’s sad that it gets buried in such poor framing.

      The thing is that this goes beyond poor framing.

      For starters, they ignore their own advice. Part of the point is to express appreciation is ways that resonate with your audience. Yet, although they admit that their sample of their intended audience was mostly negative about a particular mode, they STILL insist that it’s a proper item to “explore”. And the *way* they suggest it be “explored” is a lawsuit waiting to happen. As well as all of the other issues with their suggestion.

      Which is all to say that they took a reasonable concept- ie different people communicate differently which influences how they perceive and receive appreciation – and use that to push and really bad agenda.

    3. kiki*

      Yeah, I feel like the overall point of the Five Love Languages– that folks prefer to show and receive love in different ways– is actually good and not that problematic. The actual details the book goes into and the beliefs of the author are a different story, but I do think it’s valuable in my romantic relationships, friendships, and even work relationships to remember that just because I like to be appreciated one way doesn’t mean that’s how others will best receive my appreciation.

      I really love the questions Czhorat laid out because everyone is looking for different things from their workplace! While commenters in this community seem to be predominantly in the “I work for money only, that’s the only thing I’m looking from my workplace” category, there are people who want a workplace that offers some socialization, there are people who value words of affirmation from their bosses, there are some people who would choose to be paid less but have more time off. It’s important to remember that everyone is different!

    4. Awkwardness*

      Not only this, but also that different employees value different things in order to feel “connected” to their colleagues and to perceive the atmosphere as good. For some it might be a bit water-cooler talk, occasional food gifts for others, and for others it might be words of appreciation while not interested in any small talk. This is a useful thing to understand and apply.
      But acts of service/ helping others with their work should be something that is equally done for everybody and is likey to cause conflict if not.

      So the baseline of the idea is fine, but it seems not properly thought through for the workplace.

  29. Dancing Otter*

    Have we learned nothing?
    Do not touch me. There’s a reason I’m still wearing a mask. Keep your {expletive deleted} distance. If you insist on shaking my hand, I will ostentatiously bring out the hand sanitizer while you stand there. I MAY manage not to say anything snarky.

    1. AnonORama*

      Eh, there are plenty of reasons to be anti-touch at work aside from Covid (although that’s legit, particularly if you’re immunocompromised or have other health issues and you’ve been forced back into the office anyway). I could foresee many people going in for the unwanted touch with the “I’m not sick” or “come on, it’s not March 2020” if they think this is the reason.

    2. The Good Rolls*

      Please tell me it’d be that “Maybe you touched your genitals” or another hand sanitizer with a snarky label.

  30. Rex Libris*

    “… it’s controversial… some people don’t want it at all… it can be “problematic… numerous managers “repeatedly expressed concern” about the inclusion of touch…. rarely anyone’s primary language of appreciation at work…

    This much effort explaining why something could be a bad idea means it’s a bad idea.

    1. ferrina*

      But theoretically it could be a good idea. It’s not their fault that the data isn’t matching their model! /s

      1. Ginger Baker*

        STATUS. The fifth could be “higher titles, better projects”. If they truly wanted to actually think about what Work Appreciation looks like. (Not that they do obvs and now I’m really wondering too if they tracked salary increases under Gifts for this – which would also be super fucking wrong, my salary is not a Gift ffs.)

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, the whole thing sounds like “everybody has told us this is a bad idea and there is a good chance that if you do it, it will annoy more people than it will please, but we’re going to ignore all that and say it’s a good idea anyway.”

  31. Falling Diphthong*

    I’ve praised the Jade City series because the society portrayed feels complex and organic and like it grew out of what was there before. You would never set things up that way when you’re building from scratch–but societies aren’t built from scratch.

    This feels like a similar thing: Are we going to come up with a new, unfamiliar system fine-tuned to work? Or are we going to take the existing system and claim that it all maps over and nothing can change? And as humans, marketing to other humans, they said “Yep, option B. That’s what can sell.”

    If we need to pretend 10-20% of workers are in this for the fist bumps, so be it.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      What? I can’t figure out if you are pro or anti the love language crap. What is the familiar system? What are we mapping over? What are we “selling”?

      Your last sentence makes it sound like you think we need to force people to accept touch at work. No, no we do not.

      Also, seriously, the love language concept is total and complete made up garbage. We don’t need to take anything from the garbage pile. It’s not a binary, where it’s this or nothing. Try option C.

  32. Ex-prof*

    “A friendly squeeze on the shoulder, or a pat on the back.”

    Hey, employers! Institute these signs of appreciation and watch your female staff resign en masse!

    Probably half the male staff as well.

  33. Andromeda*

    I’m pretty chill with hugs at work from people I already know/am friendly with (and usually only in social settings like after-work drinks)… but that’s an issue in itself! What if someone I barely know does something really helpful? If we *did* want to say that touch should be used as a language of appreciation for *work things* in the workplace, people are naturally going to feel freer to demonstrate that with people they just happen to like, and that wouldn’t be fair, just as it wouldn’t be fair with any other kind of appreciation.

    1. Excel-sior*

      i am very much a hugger in my personal life. you can’t beat a good hug. i have one friend i particular with whom i share hugs which would put JD and Turk to shame (for readers of a certain age). but i would never hug somebody at work, even the ones who have become very good friends (attended each others weddings). part of that is that the English are far too repressed for hugging lol. but for just regular work colleagues, I don’t want hugs or other forms of touching beyond the occasional handshake.

  34. Dust Bunny*

    Okay, my workplace did a sort of “love language”-lite poll but–and I don’t recall now what the choice were–the choices were all very definitely work-appropriate and not the, uh, domestic list of “love languages”. Basically how much attention do you want, with slight variations. Touch was not one of them.

    I think my department was mostly “please just leave me alone to do my work and let me know that I’m on the right track”. (Workplace already keeps raises on the radar, anyway.)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If there’s one thing the office workers of America want, it’s simple carbs.

      Is there a love language where you just give the other person free bagels?

        1. AnonORama*

          Ha, I don’t eat carbs (although I hope that’s not forever) AND I don’t like attention (that’s forever), which is why I go to major lengths to get my birthday off the calendar at work.

          But, the idea of asking how much attention people need is a great idea. I literally don’t even want a “thanks” in a meeting of more than two people. Don’t look at me!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I am literally planning baked potato night with friends tomorrow right this moment.

      2. Zelda*

        I can be bought with baked goods. Will volunteer for another overtime shift for jelly donuts (and state mandated OT pay).

  35. Falling Diphthong*

    Apparently office comedies are popular in part because the power dynamics are similar to a family. The managers are the parents, and the coworkers are like siblings.

    This takes that and says “What if all those office relationships were romantic? What would make sense then to show appreciation?” and no, that is the wrong model.

    1. Ultimate Facepalm*

      That makes a lot of sense. I tend to revert to who I was as a kid. People pleasing, hiding in my room (cubicle), and rebel if neither of those work.

      1. Blarg*

        While describing a challenging dynamic with an older colleague, my shrink looked at me and said “you know, you can’t make your mother like you.”

        And it was a true light bulb moment. My mom sucked. This coworker sucked. The first died. The second retired. I felt relief at both.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I think Hollywood writers have mostly never worked in offices and have no idea what they are like. They mostly have done this or retail. That’s why you so often see romantic relationships with bosses and their direct reports or just poor boundaries and lots of drama.

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      This is reminding me of the Friends episode where Chandler’s boss shows his appreciation with butt-slaps (where the whole plot feels very AAM letter, with Chandler trying to figure out multiple ways to avoid it happening, until he follows the obvious advice of asking his boss to stop, which is what works).

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I don’t think power dynamics of an office are similar to a real family. I have never thought of any boss as a parent figure or coworkers as siblings, especially as I get older and have bosses and coworkers much younger than I am. I think it’s more that a normal, functional, professional office with adults treating each other as peers, would certainly make for a short boring show…or book.

      For instance, when “reality” TV first started up, it was interesting to see how people would react to contrived situations — all isolated on an island, oooohhhh — then the producers saw what personalities and situations resonated with audiences and subsequent seasons started casting for certain characters. Oh there has to be a villan and a virgin, a kindly father figure and a lone wolf tough guy! Never really run across that kind of casting in real life.

  36. MistOrMister*

    It’s all good and well to tell people to watch and see how others react to being touched, but give me a break! Just because Sally doesn’t stiffen up like a board when Beth pats her on the shoulder doesn’t mean Joe and Sheila should assume that means Sally is ok being touched by coworkers! Maybe she is very close to Beth and therefore doesn’t mind. But maybe she absolutely hates it and has asked Beth 100 times to stop touching her and Beth won’t listen!

    I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know well and even when I do know them well I still don’t want contact with most of my coworkers. It is a nightmare to me when people want to hug or pat me or whatever else. Not everyone is comfortable shutting that kind of thing down. I really wish more people would just err on the side of caution and keep their hands to themselves and don’t even ask if people want to be touched.

  37. Rage*

    I’ve met the guy who started this – Dr. Paul White. Bit of a shyster if you ask me. This whole thing was never Gary Chapman’s idea – Dr. White just hassled him until he agreed.

    First of all – physical touch is NOT one of the languages of appreciation in the workplace. At least they were smart enough for that.

    But it’s not so much about “appreciation” in the way a corporation or business would show appreciation by giving you money. It’s more of a team-building/communication thing.

    Just like the 5 Love Languages, each of us has a preferred style by which we like people (our teammates) to show their appreciation for us: tangible gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service (I forget what the 5th one is LOL). And, just like the love languages, we tend to gravitate toward our own preferred style when we show appreciation for others. The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace is geared to help us recognize others’ preferred languages, so we can share our appreciation in a way that is the most meaningful to them.

    Could companies use this to keep salaries low? Oh, probably. But it’s meant to be used between team members rather than for an employer-employee relationship.

    We did this at my former employer – and I thought it was a big load of hooey too (especially since I’d already met Dr. White). However, I found that it was gratifying to be able to receive recognition from my colleagues in the way that I preferred…and I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like THEIR ways (if they weren’t MY way) if they used it to recognize me.

    I am a “Tangible Gifts” person. Give me chocolate, and I will happily do whatever you ask of me – but offering to do a task for me (“Acts of Service”) annoyed me, rather than making me feel grateful. One of my coworkers was “Words of Affirmation” and another was “Quality Time”. I made a special effort to give verbal and written praise to the “words” coworker, and to pop into my “quality time” coworker’s office for a chat. I think it really did improve our relationship with one another.

    Across the office, we all agreed that receiving appreciation from our coworkers in our “preferred” language made us truly feel appreciated by our coworkers…and more connected as a whole. I’d go into it with more of an open mind…and remember that it’s supposed to be about you and your coworkers, not you and the company that employs you.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      >>Dr. White just hassled him until he agreed.

      Not very love-languagey of Dr White, was it? Do as we say, not as we do!

      1. Rage*

        No, definitely not. Apparently Dr. White’s language of appreciation is “capitulation”. LOL

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      It sure sounds like shyster bullshit that could be peddled in a magazine quiz.

      Because it is.

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      You say it’s not, but Alison read the book and it was one of them in the book. You saying Alison is wrong about what the book says?

      1. Rage*

        It wasn’t when we did it. It was made very clear.

        Now…they talk about it, yes, and have a ranking for it. But “physical touch” shouldn’t be ever “assigned” as your primary appreciation language, no matter what your scores are from the assessment. But the reason they talk about it (at least, what I was told when we did it) is because if you score highest in that category (to where it could be considered your language), you need to be aware because you are probably defaulting to that when you express appreciation to others. Which, of course, is not good. But if you are aware of it, you can correct it.

        When we did it, we were told that whatever score you showed for Physical Touch would not be counted, and your next-highest would be your language.

        If they’ve changed it, then I have an issue with it. But originally, Physical Touch was not meant to be assigned as an official “language of appreciation”.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      A bit of a side note, but I’m not sure we do necessarily gravitate towards the style we prefer to be appreciated in when appreciating others. In my personal life, I often tend to show affection with gifts when personally, gifts aren’t that important to me at all.

      But yeah, we do have ways we are more comfortable with than others.

      1. allathian*

        It’s the other way for me. I detest shopping, and buying gifts for others makes me anxious. What if they don’t like it?

        Gift lists are a godsend because at least then I can be sure of buying something the recipient’s said they want. But in my family we’ve stopped exchanging Christmas presents with other adults because buying stuff from each other’s lists seemed pointless and was more stressful than fun for all of us.

        Our house is full of stuff and if you like giving gifts, I prefer consumables such as luxury coffee or chocolates. Food can be problematic if you don’t know the person well, though.

        That said, a really well-chosen gift can make me feel more seen than almost anything else. But if you expect the same consideration from me you’re probably going to be disappointed…

    5. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      Rage, “each of us has a preferred style by which we like people (our teammates) to show their appreciation for us”

      This is your claim, not a universal truth, though.

      I do not have one singular, static, always-preferred way I like people to show appreciation for me. I like a variety of different things depending on the circumstances; the only commonality is that they don’t fit a category. Elsewhere in this comments section, several others say the same is true for them. So this is evidently not a universal truth, even though it works for some or even many people.

      Ignoring the people for whom it does not work doesn’t make them feel appreciated, though. I feel less appreciated when someone tells me they don’t care how I feel or what I want if it doesn’t confirm their biases.

  38. stelms_elms*

    This is where you create a Culture of Appreciation and you ASK your peers and employees how they like to be recognized. You don’t even have to use the Love Language concept. Of course, more money is always great, but that often isn’t an option. Or you get your raise, but what happens the rest of the year? I like to be acknowledged with words of praise through a short, thoughtful note or an email. But please, for the love, do not praise me in a public venue. I will melt through the floor. You have to know how people want to be acknowledged. If you like to give out gift cards, etc., but the person receiving the gift card doesn’t like to be acknowledged that way, that person may feel like you really don’t care about the fantastic job they did on a project because you got them a generic, easy-to-acquire gift card, etc. (I don’t drink coffee and I can’t tell you how many gift cards I’ve received over the years to coffee chains. I know I could get a different drink, but still.)

    1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      Yes, this!
      You don’t have to use a reductive, gimmicky framework to talk to your colleagues about how you all like to show and receive appreciation.
      Whether it’s simple to sum up –“I just want money!” or “gifting me a new ergonomic keyboard would show that you care about my comfort” or “It would be the most meaningful to me to be praised on stage at the big award ceremony”
      Or more complicated and crossing ‘types’ –“Boss can appreciate me by lobbying for me to get a bonus, but I would feel super uncomfortable getting money from junior coworker — they can appreciate me by offering to take over this tedious task I hate for a little while” “I need to choose and pay for my ergonomic stuff myself so it’s customized to me, but an offer to clear my schedule for a few hours so I have time to set it up at work would make me feel seen and my comfort valued” “I’d feel unappreciated by having my valuable work time wasted being publicly praised at the awards ceremony, but if anyone nominates me I would love to read their nomination letters on my own time, or hear brief feedback in the moment day to day.”

  39. A Girl Named Fred*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I had to do this at a previous (toxic) workplace and it sucked – if it helps, at least yours had the sense to find the workplace version of it instead of going whole hog with the full on love languages test and info? (Like mine did…)

    For what it’s worth, if you can plan ahead and/or are quick on your feet, you can couch almost all of this in the workplace behavior you want to see. IE, quality time showed as a top love language for me, but I would have rather eaten broken glass than spent more time with my manager there. So I flavored it as, “I can see quality time as being important to me for sure – making time to have in-depth, focused work on projects like XYZ helps me feel more invested in them.”

    You should NOT have to do that with touch though. Touch is a flat out no, end of story.

  40. PicklePants*

    I can’t stand being touched (only by a handful of people) & definitely not at work, I shut down completely too.

    I’m friendly and approachable but, unfortunately, colleagues take that as license to touch. Despite repeatedly telling people not to touch me, they’d “forget” & I started to really struggle to come back from the repeated touches.

    Luckily I have a very supportive manager (who could see how distressed I was getting by all the physical contact) & they said I could build a fort by my desk using bookcases to prevent people from getting close to me.

    After 2 months of physically being unable to reach me to touch me, I gradually took it down & now no one touches me, it’s like mentally, the physical barrier is still there.

    I can’t believe there is a book out there reinforcing physical contact is ok, it is really not!

  41. Delta Delta*

    Get ready for this. I was on a board of a pretty big nonprofit. Our ED was a very accomplished woman with impeccable credentials and a lot of clout. She Got Things Done. She was also a baker and never showed up to a meeting without a tray of cookies. It used to drive me insane because people didn’t refer to her as “Jane the Kickass ED” they referred to her a “Jane With the Cookies.”

    I really didn’t want to see her talents reduced to being known as Jane With Cookies, and talked to another board member about maybe discussing this with her. The other board member looked me dead in the eye and said “baking is her love language” and that we shouldn’t say anything.

    Bang head on wall.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      You shouldn’t say anything *to her* but you could also ask them to change how they refer to her, and you could 100% model that change.
      If you wish they’d talk more about her work than her baking, the solution is not to try to make her stop baking. It’s to show more appreciation for the work side of things.
      (Now, if you were a mentor for a new employee who was doing this, that’s completely different. But you’re new at the company and she’s the *Executive Director* so she’s your boss! Definitely needs to be handled differently.)

  42. SansaStark*

    I am very much a do-not-touch-me-at-work-ever person. Everyone knew this and respected it. When I left my old job and became “real life” friends with a coworker, she was pleasantly SHOCKED when I went for a hug when we met up for dinner one night. Oh yeah, I’m a big hugger in real life (for those who also like to be hugged).

  43. Selina Luna*

    I’m very, visibly pregnant right now, so the idea of “touch” as a “language of appreciation” would be a special kind of hell for me at the moment. I already have to put off people who think my pregnant belly is just an excuse to pet me.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I think that you’re amazingly restrained if you don’t bite them- or at least bite their heads off. Anyone trying to pet me had better be a canine who wants attention.

  44. Annie*

    I can certainly understand why they felt pressured to include 5 appreciation languages in the workplace version – as Allison says, yes, sure, this is a marketing ploy. But if they’d asked me – which they didn’t, ha! – I think it would have been quite simple to translate the “physical touch” of intimate relationships to the “networking connections” of professional relationships, since networking diagrams represent the “touchpoints” between people without actual physical touch. I think they could have found a lot of traction with this idea of appreciating your colleagues and building a more positive communication culture by introducing them to one another when there is common ground or an expert within an organization who can help out on a tricky task. It just seems very obvious that they . . . did not need to keep this wildly problematic concept.

  45. Observer*

    I don’t think we should ever be “exploring” touch at work to the point where we need to see someone’s body “stiffen when someone touches them”

    OMG! YES!

    Just reading that line the first time made me cringe SO HARD.

    And yes to the rest of the answer.

  46. JelloStapler*

    The mental gymnastics to avoid just paying someone a good salary and reasonable workload!
    “Can I just fistbump you instead??”

    1. Rex Libris*

      There is an entire “motivational leadership” industry devoted to the “secrets” of showing appreciation and motivating staff without providing things like decent pay, work-life balance, time-off, benefits, or other things that will actually take money or effort to provide.

  47. ConstantlyComic*

    I was just talking about this with my coworkers at a meeting yesterday! Our old supervisor made us do the work love languages survey, and we didn’t talk about it at the time, but it turns out that, unsurprisingly, no one was happy about it. It’s such a cheap cash grab; you can tell they did barely more than find-replace in some areas. I have no idea why anyone would think it was a good idea.

  48. Catmin*

    I had a coworker once who would want to tap me on the shoulder or give me a hug for whatever reason but would hesitate and say “oh I won’t cause I know you don’t like being touched”. I don’t think I ever expressed to her that I didn’t like being touched (I don’t mind within reason) but I decided to roll with the assumption cause I didn’t like her much.

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      I had a coworker once who I’m convinced had no soul* and who, for no apparent one time, ran their fingers down my spine in a way that suggested extreme familiarity. Scared the living daylights when I turned around to find it was this particular coworker. I can’t fathom why they decided this was an acceptable gesture at work.

      *Whatever animates the face and shows you were the soul lives? This person didn’t have it. Weirded me out A LOT, especially when I’d forget to not look at their face and get surprised. I tried to be polite because we worked together often and for years- I never told this person I assumed they had no soul.

      1. metadata minion*

        There are plenty of things that can make someone have a very flat or otherwise unusual affect; it doesn’t mean they have no soul.

      2. Nina*

        Whatever animates the face and shows you were the soul lives? This person didn’t have it.
        Yeah autism is one thing that can do that. (e.g. Love being told I clearly don’t have a soul. Super fun in the workplace. And yes, many autistic people have enough social skills to know when their coworkers are deliberately avoiding looking at their face because they think it’s creepy. wtaf.

        Not saying your coworker is/was autistic or that the running fingers down spine thing is okay (it’s not) but also, casually being all ‘lol this person clearly has no soul’ is not okay.

        1. M2RB*

          Thank you for this reply – I found the top comment to be upsetting and couldn’t articulate why.

  49. throwaway123*

    I love that this post is right after catching the two managers in a comprising position post.

  50. Merrie*

    We have a new supervisor and he wanted to meet with each of us to get to know us. Beforehand he wanted us to each take a quiz to identify our primary “language of appreciation” between four (physical touch was mercifully left out). The quiz ooked me out so I didn’t take it, but I told him that what I most want from my manager is constructive feedback and helping me solve problems I can’t fix on my own. I guess those would map to words of affirmation and acts of service? Which are also my big “love languages” in my marriage, but I don’t like this being translated over to the workplace. Just weird in numerous ways to me.

  51. Chirpy*

    Gah. I’ve literally reflexively HIT customers who touched me without asking. I HATE being touched by strangers and the vast majority of coworkers.

    *I had one workplace where I was ok with most of my coworkers touching me, but that was because it was a summer camp, and I had a lot of friends working there. My current workplace had exactly one person I was ok with hugging me, under specific circumstances (really rough day) and she asked first. She doesn’t work here anymore, though, and I’ve otherwise never been ok with coworkers touching me in 20+ years of work.

  52. Prof*

    well, the company is asking you to discuss and share, so I’d happily bring up how uncomfortable the touching part made me and that I was concerned that unwanted touching endorsed by Company could be a legal liability or even sexual harassment. Shut that crap down fast…

  53. oranges*

    Icky-ness aside, I appreciate that somebody somewhere was like, “five love languages MUST EQUAL five work languages!”

    As an obsesser of consistency myself: game recognize game.
    I’d never be able to make a parallel book that went from five to four, lol.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      They could have EASILY subbed out something like “autonomy” or “trust” instead of touch. But no, it had to be the SAME EXACT five.
      They’re more invested in the brand than in actually helping people

  54. TX_Trucker*

    This books seems like it’s “perfect” for my office. We have a weird super positive culture about shaking hands. I don’t mean a congratulatory handshake for a job well done. I shake hands with my boss and several coworkers EVERY day. It stopped briefly during Covid, but we are back to frequent handshakes or fistbumps. It is super strange. The former CEO (retired) explained it to me as his attempt to bring respect and dignity to blue collar employees who historically were treated like crap. So he went out of his way to shake hands with all “field” staff and it somehow morphed into this long line of handshakes even with people who see each other daily.

  55. Lily Rowan*

    Insert clip from Mad Men of Peggy saying no one ever thanks her for her work and Don Draper replying, “That’s what the MONEY is for!!”

  56. BBB*

    one time a coworker tried to pat me on the shoulder and I didn’t see it coming and jumped like a jack rabbit to the point that it freaked out said coworker
    they never tried to touch me again
    so I guess that is one method for getting people to not touch you? lol

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      I’m an Army Reserve Soldier. I was standing in formation, and a Major came up behind me, said nothing, and put his hands on me to move me to a different place in the formation.

      I turned around and said “I wouldn’t do that again if I were you, sir. You might have to worry about my other rank”. (3rd degree black belt in taekwondo. Yes he knew that).

      He didn’t touch me again.

      1. BBB*

        I don’t have a black belt to fall back on, but do not underestimate the power of sheer panic flailing
        when I fight or flight I fight haaaaard lmao

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I prefer psychological violence, in defense only, because it often takes away the need to engage in physical violence.

  57. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I used to have majorly majorly long hair and the one day someone who was new to our organization (and somewhat our cultural norms) came up behind me and started fingering through it, I screamed to holy hell. It scared me to death. Plus, gross.

    People came out of offices, including the HR boss and after everyone calmed down the hair toucher was called into their office to have the discussion about being appropriate in the workplace. They came from a touchy feely type of culture from their former place but got schooled on that quickly here, just as the rest of the office got schooled on the acoustics of tile flooring.

    1. Anon for This*

      I also have long hair which I wear in a braid and tie with a ribbon. I had someone come up behind me and say, “Your bow is lopsided!” then untie it. I presume they were planning to retie it, but I leaped out of my skin and shrieked so loudly I scared them away.

  58. TPS Reporter*

    My department went almost entirely remote during COVID and stayed that way. For years we saw everyone in person at least a few days a week.

    Now you can’t even get some people to turn on their videos. They do not want to be seen let alone touched!

  59. ecnaseener*

    Love how they couldn’t even bring themselves to advise “ask if people want to be touched” or even “offer a touch by eg holding out your hand for a handshake and let them voluntarily engage or not,” they had to go with “guess at who wants your touch.”

    That said, you can still use “oh, I’m not a physical-touch person!” now that you’ve been given this framing.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      There is a real “Am I out of touch, no it’s the workers who are wrong” vibe here.

  60. Irish Teacher.*

    This reminds me a little of my Leaving Cert. Graduation Mass (celebration when we leave school) when the religion teachers were giving out little angel pins as goodbye gifts and my religion teacher decided it would be a good idea to hug us all. Apart from the fact I hate being hugged (which was the main issue), I also didn’t like her and literally deliberately stood away from her to discourage her and she still hugged me. (My mum, by the way, thought the whole thing hilarious because she knows how I feel about being hugged and could guess what was coming.)

    Yeah, this was 26 years ago this month and I still remember that. So…yeah, let’s not encourage people to be that person at work.

    1. allathian*

      I’m looking cranky at your parent. There’s something profoundly wrong with anyone who finds it funny when their child has to go through something they find unpleasant in public but can’t really make a scene about. I’m guessing your parents weren’t great about respecting your boundaries when you were a kid, if they even acknowledged your right to have them.

  61. Alex*

    Appreciation of touch is such a complex thing, you can’t just assume “this person likes to be touched” and then go around touching them for every accomplishment and think that that is fine.

    I *can* be a touchy feely person, in some contexts, with some people. I work with a group of young people (college students) and one girl always runs up and gives me a hug when I come in the door (She is only there occasionally so it’s more like a “hi I haven’t seen you in so long!” hug). It’s very sweet and not weird at all because we have a friendly relationship.

    But if my boss gave me a hug for doing a good job on the TPS report that would be SUPER DUPER WEIRD OMG. A clueless manager who decides that his employees like to be touched because of a quiz from a book could get in hot water real quick.

    1. PotatoRock*

      I think something about the general label “touch” and knowing it comes from the relationship-version of the book gives me the heebie-jeebies but I can kind of see their point, in that I can imagine a casual team where eg a high five or fist bump is offered when you all walk out of a meeting that went well. As long as someone who doesn’t touch for religious or medical or personal preferences is respected, it seems fine. Maybe an analogy is gift giving – a boss who drops off a few pieces of candy occasionally isn’t inherently a problem. A boss who keeps dropping off candy when someone has explained they can’t eat it for whatever reason /is/ a problem. And there are some gifts that would just never be appropriate for the workplace even if the individual employee was okay with it.

  62. Audrey*

    Ugh I love this book and this misunderstanding bothers me so much. The point of the 5 love languages is to understand how people “speak” and also “hear” love. It’s NOT to say you must adhere to other people’s love language.

    If physical touch isn’t your language but it’s someone else’s, a lot of people interpret the book the say that you *must* let them touch you for them to feel loved. That’s not true! The idea is that their initiation of a high five is their way of showing love. With that knowledge, you can find ways that *you want* to touch them. Maybe you reciprocate a high five, maybe in a meeting you say the engineers should give themselves a “pat on the back” or slack a fist bump. But rejecting their hug is no different than not taking a compliment well. The usual person giving the complement isn’t going to feel rejected that you didn’t take their compliment.

    Great book, it definitely translates better in a marriage, but I understand what they’re going for. It’s gimmicky but OP you don’t have to touch people you don’t want to!!

    1. Observer*

      Nope. There is no “misunderstanding” at play here.

      This is clearly NOT about metaphorical touch – you generally don’t have to check if someone stiffens when you tell them to pat themselves on the back! And their list is all totally physical, with not a single mention of verbal / metaphorical “touch”.

      But rejecting their hug is no different than not taking a compliment well.

      Not at all. Not taking a compliment well is often seen as rude and it’s often easy to see why, and sometimes that perception is actually correct Rejecting a hug, on the other hand, is *never* rude, but it’s often seen that way by huggers.

      The idea is that their initiation of a high five is their way of showing love.

      And that’s a problem, especially in a workplace. Unless you *know* that someone is ok with this, physical touch is not an appropriate way to express “appreciation”. You are better off not expressing appreciation than “expressing” it in ways that makes the recipient uncomfortable.

      With that knowledge, you can find ways that *you want* to touch them. Maybe you reciprocate a high five

      No and no. Because some people *do not* have ANY way in which they want to tough another person (at work). And no one needs to “reciprocate” physical touch.

      maybe in a meeting you say the engineers should give themselves a “pat on the back” or slack a fist bump.

      I can’t figure out what you after here. Best case this is clueless. Worst case, you seem to be equating speech and touch in ways that make no sense but put additional pressure on people to “politely” acquiesce to being touched.

  63. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the number of people who think it’s ok to put your hands on someone unsolicited at work. Don’t touch me!

  64. The Good Rolls*

    No, no, I could not board the “Nope” train and depart to “Eff that-ville” fast enough while reading this. It feels so ickily ambiguious and leaving a lot up to interpretation. Also an excuse for people to touch others who may be uncomfortable with it but scared to speak up because they are new/young/female/in a lower position/etc.

    I (f) had another coworker (also f) who was just a ball of sunshine and a lovely woman but who’s workplace language was definitely touch. I didn’t mind the shoulder squeeze or back pats until she gave me a very heavy-handed pat the day after I hurt a back muscle.

    As for praise and recognition, they are both seriously underrated and go so far in retaining employees. There was a time I was considering leaving because of the lack of recognition (among other things). I even made an email folder for particularly thankful emails from colleagues because I sure as hell wasn’t getting recognition from my boss.

  65. Sara without an H*

    Oh, dear. A few years back, my former employer (higher education) put all team leaders & department heads through a rather unfortunate professional development/team building/motivational silliness initiative. As part of this, they bought everybody a copy of The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, and told us all to read it for discussion at a later session.

    We went through the “languages,” with some mild, but unenthusiastic discussion of each topic. And then we came to “physical touch.”

    There was a moment of dead silence. Then Jessica, the HR director, piped up in her brightest, chirpiest voice and said, “Oh! Let’s not go there.”

    With obvious relief we all turned to the next discussion topic…

  66. Yup*

    My spouse’s company is having a rough time due to bad management decisions (think old boys’ club managers who have been in their positions for 30+ years and prioritize friends and handshakes over new approaches) and bad deals, and their solution was to have a managers’ team-building event where they played cringe meme games and everyone walked away feeling like Things Had Been Done. It’s the business equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. All these pseud-science solutions seem to be what companies do when they don’t really want to change anything.

    1. Nopity nope*

      It also keeps the positions who come up with these things useful. Healthcare is littered with these and of course when jobs are on the chopping block, it’s usually clinical positions because we can do more with less than these superfluous ones.

  67. Nopity nope*

    While there’s so many pseudosciences and some do have a nugget of wisdom (mostly realizing not everyone is the same and to stop relying on flawed perceptions), nobody’s language should take precedence over YOU. If someone’s work language is touch that’s great, it works for them, but the point is to not treat everyone according to what works for you. Either way I don’t know why a workplace would include touch as a “work language” because that just seems like opening a door for legal issues or going against their own handbook.

  68. strawberry milk charlotte*

    OP I’m right there with you, I’m super uncomfy with being touched in the workplace. Or by anyone I’m not incredibly close to (My best friend and I didn’t start hugging until we were both over 20. We met when I was 12.) Touch from someone I don’t feel personally close to makes me so uncomfortable and aware of that (and pretty much nothing else). I think fistbump is the most neutral for me, but even then, neutral in that I’ll tolerate it if that’s it.

    (I suck it up for handshakes and the expectations that go with them, but I still get nervy about them.)

    I have used a lot of strategies from this blog to deal with that when it comes up!

    Framing it as a “me thing” has worked when I said something directly to someone who had a pattern of touching, and

    I even had success when I had someone push back when I asked her not to put hands on my shoulders to get my attention. Telling her that every time she touched my back it felt like there were creepy little electric spiders crawling on me afterwards would’ve been a bit much, even though that is how it felt. Instead I told her

    “Hey, no big deal and there was no way for you to know, but I have a thing about being touched to get my attention and I’d prefer you use my name or say something instead.”

    I listened to her “Well I needed your attention and I always do this,” and replied on the spot with “I get that, and I’m just saying moving forward not to touch me.” She wasn’t thrilled with me, but didn’t touch anymore so, win. I might’ve reiterated that it wasn’t something I thought she should’ve known already and I was just letting her know now. It was over a year ago, I don’t really know.

    When I don’t know if it’s a pattern or a one-off I’ll try just sidestepping/moving away, or stiffening. Most people get it, and I can say something if it seems like they don’t.

    As someone who doesn’t like touch I’ve never understood casual touch and how people do it without even noticing, but that’s because for me it feels So Extreme. I’d never be able to absently do it, but I think some people really do.

    I think in discussions re: the languages, you could probably make a point of saying “Oh, I’m not a toucher, but I’ll always [tell you I appreciated X effort, or however you want to appreciate people/be appreciated].” and that’d take care of most of it? You could even do a jokey “no touchy” like Kuzco, if that’s your style.

    I’ve also found it really helpful to frame boundary setting not as a negative/something I’m doing to the other person; I’d always appreciate someone else telling me I’ve crossed a line/made them uncomfortable/did something that landed wrong way more than doing it while they stew in resentment or anxiety about why do I keep doing that. If I only ever see someone once, or never want to see them again, I probably wouldn’t say anything (unless category 2 was someone I would see again but needed to tell to leave me alone going forward). Telling someone that something makes you uncomfortable means you want to keep interacting with them, minus that one thing.

    1. allathian*

      I’ve never been one for casual touching either, except with my very best friends when I was a teen, and with my husband. Also my son when he was small and initiated most of the touching. But I started asking for permission to touch him when he was about 6, and do it reflexively now that he’s a teen. And I’m happy that he still sometimes asks for a hug after a hard day.

      But for the touchy-feely people, a graphic description of how the touch makes you feel “electric spiders” may be the only thing that makes them understand how unpleasant it is for you to be touched. Unless they’re bullies who enjoy making you uncomfortable, it should change their behavior. And if it doesn’t, you have a different problem.

      For them, touching and being touched is either actively pleasant or neutral. They may think you’re weird because you have different preferences, but does that really matter if they learn once and for all that you actively hate being touched?

  69. Rondeaux*

    i think everyone can use some appreciation in the workplace, but I don’t see what “love languages” has to do with it.

    Totally agree this is just another version to make $$. Like they just tore the original cover off and replaced it with a workplace one

  70. Wendy Darling*

    Literally the answer is money. I think it’s a lot like that study where they found that up to a certain point money DID buy happiness — if you’re underpaid, the non-monetary compensation does not matter, especially when it’s completely unhelpful stuff like workplace love languages.

    Two jobs ago I worked at a company that paid very poorly for the region and claimed that their generous PTO policies (which were honestly only slightly better than average for the field) and excellent work-life balance made up for it. I found that when they offered me any kind of non-monetary appreciation I just resented it because what I really wanted was more money. I left when the work-life balance got worse and the pay did not improve.

    My new role was actually more stressful, but because I was making 30% more I was actually less stressed overall and less bothered by work stress — I felt like the money was worth the bullshit, and that made the bullshit WAY easier for me to tolerate.

    1. Notify Nope*

      Absolutely agree. When I feel paid fairly I’ve noticed there’s a lot of things that can roll off more easily down my back. It really is just money that makes it worth it. It’s why most of us go to work (yes there are some blessed few who do it for fun or to have something to do). It becomes a terrible catch 22 for everyone because then the people who do the non monetary extras feel like nobody is appreciative and the receivers feel like they aren’t taken seriously.

      It also gets to me when all these extras aren’t needed and when you try to negotiate the HR only knows “but all these benefits!” That’s excellent but none of them apply to me and therefore it shouldn’t be part of my compensation package. Or at least not the excuse. Just say you won’t pay more.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        “It becomes a terrible catch 22 for everyone because then the people who do the non monetary extras feel like nobody is appreciative and the receivers feel like they aren’t taken seriously.”

        In the job I left because I was underpaid I had been promised a raise if I delivered a high-profile project, but they froze all raises and promotions for over a year due to “economic uncertainty” because of COVID (we made automated customer service chatbots, business BOOMED during COVID, Q2 2020 was the company’s single best quarter of all time) and I was furious about it. In order to make up for the lack of raises and try to get morale out of the toilet the company started giving out recognition awards, which just meant you got your name read out in a department meeting and got a $10 gift card.

        I ended up in this terrible catch-22 where I never got one of the awards and was super angry that my work was never recognized, but also if I HAD gotten an award I would have been super angry that they thought a $10 gift card was adequate compensation for working 6+ months of unpaid overtime only to have the promised raise taken off the table. There was no way they could have implemented that program that wouldn’t just make people angrier.

        1. Nopity Nope*

          I am so angry for you.

          I’ve been in similar carrot dangling positions and never gotten the carrot.

          I’m assuming you are salary since OT was unpaid. I’d leave too.

    2. PotatoRock*

      Makes total sense, especially since money buys less stress in your non work life! It’s great!

  71. Thetidesturnforeveryone*

    No Touch. The Office Creep will take the “touch” love language (barf) and use it to their advantage. Just don’t touch people. I’m not your therapy touch person.

  72. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    No, no, a million times no. I don’t even want you to stand in touching range of me at work, much less actually touch me.

    I have been giving a hard side-eye to the “love languages” concept since I first heard about it. It reads to me like a dressed-up method of manipulating your partner. It adds nothing of value to the discourse. And it does NOT belong in the workplace. I would have serious doubts about the judgment of whoever decided to inflict this crap on the team.

  73. Coverage Associate*

    Haven’t I read about work cultures where hand shaking is a very big deal? Like the standard is for all co workers to shake hands every morning and afternoon? It wasn’t an English speaking country, but was presented as national custom in a travel book or something.

    Just for the people who wish hand shaking would go away or don’t understand why it would be mandated or nearly mandated. There are places, or one place, where handshakes happen several times a day.

    And then I also read about families where male blood relatives only shake hands.

  74. WantonSeedStitch*

    Argh. My five workplace “love languages” are:
    1) Money
    2) Other benefits
    3) Incorporating my ideas and feedback into how we work
    4) Advocating for me and my team with senior leadership
    5) Good communication

    I’m a person who’s generally comfortable with hugs from colleagues with whom I have a warm relationship on special occasions (saying goodbye to a colleague who’s leaving, etc.) but that’s not what makes me feel appreciated and engaged in my work.

  75. Brain the Brian*

    Even if this were real science, I don’t think we should be applying anything about “love languages” in the workplace, thank you very much. I do not love my coworkers. I work with them. End of story.

  76. Kris*

    OMG yes. We work for money! Also… Whoah. I’ve heard people mention the five love languages or “my love language is acts of service and physical touch” but I never went down the rabbit hole until today. The background behind it is… quite something and I am very glad I’ve been made aware.

  77. Nancy*

    It’s a book discussion. No one is going to touch you without your permission. A quick search brings up multiple articles that states that it is based on what the recipient prefers and that you should “not touch anyone who does not want to be touched — no exceptions.”

    It’s not a book I’m interested in but I’d be fine sitting in on a group discussion. And if I learn that Jane likes hearing the occasional thank you, great. I have no control over my coworkers’ salaries.

    1. Kara*

      I wish i could believe you, but I’ve already dealt with enough people who seem to believe that just because I’m female that means i want to be touched, that I’m leery of anything further encouraging people without boundaries. There’s any number of things they could have chosen instead of touch. Why on earth did they have to specifically go the creepy route, which even they admitted isn’t well-received?!

  78. Tuna Casserole*

    Over 30 years in non-profits, and I’ve seen many workplace fads. It’s usually some version of “how do we make people feel seen and appreciated without giving them more money?” I’ve had managers schedule wellness breaks; had various colors assigned to me; had co-workers print out jokes and post them all over the building; had stuffed fish thrown at me; but this work language thing may be the worst I’ve heard of. It would definitely make me very uncomfortable if co-workers were encouraged to touch me.

  79. Pickle Shoes*

    Oh no. Ohhhhh no. I have days where I can’t even stand to be touched by my fiance. I’m mostly covered by fabric because simple air movement can hurt.

    What a nightmare. I’d end up decking someone and not even mean to.


    Ah, this all brings back memories. As a grad student, I was in a lab where most of us touched rather often (people from cultures where touch was common, a tech whose parents were deaf, and so on) but my P.I. and his wife, the lab manager, were from the Mid West where human contact is so rare that one wonders how they reproduce at arms length. When they went on sabbatical, the lab took them out for a nice dinner and they awkwardly accepted a hug from us. My question is connected to a reference to mashing pie in the face of people which seems like it is true assault. I would punch someone in the throat if they did that to me.

  81. Laser99*

    It never fails to surprise me what bosses/companies will do to try to avoid increasing wages. How about you “touch” us with more money, PTO, and so forth?

  82. Anne Shirley-Blythe*

    This would’ve been a great episode of The Office. It practically writes itself. I’m already envisioning it. Creed in a talking head, voicing his support for physical touch. Dwight saying the fact one remains employed is sufficient communication. Michael determined to perform acts of service … aw man, I wanna see this lol

  83. MillennialHR*

    I loathe being touched by people I don’t know well (and sometimes, people I know really well). I am not a touchy-feely person other than with my husband. I would feel more touched by being appreciated for my job with raises, bonuses, etc., based on merit, but we live in the USA where being touched is considered a job bonus.

  84. cosmicgorilla*

    Ok, so…

    Ignoring the very real problems with The Love Languages series for just a moment…

    the core concept as I understood it is that it’s about YOUR preferences. Not your co-workers’ preferences. They do not get to express appreciation for you through physical touch just because that’s how they prefer to receive it. The message from the books I’ve read was that this is allegedly the issue, when we express appreciation (or love) in the manner in which we prefer to receive it.

    Now, what about using physical touch to express appreciation for a coworker whose preference is just that?

    Their preference does not trump your discomfort.
    Their preference does not trump your discomfort.
    Their preference does not trump your discomfort.

    They get to state their preferences. You get to state (and adhere to) your boundaries. Maybe you can find some compromise like a handshake, hand on shoulder, or fist bump. But you don’t have to.

    I can think of hypotheticals where physical touch might cause someone pain (very sensitive to touch, arthritic hands, that one jackass who thinks he has to have a bone-crushing grip), someone for whom even innocent physical touch brings up memories of a traumatic event, or folks who have sensory issues. I cannot imagine making any of them use physical touch just because it was the other person’s preference.

    And at the end of the day, these kind of communication style things are nice to know, but I don’t think anyone 100% changes how they approach others. It’s more of a nice to understand how others operate. It’s not mandated that you absolutely must change your style.

  85. Another academic librarian*

    “Touch” Hard no.
    I used to work at a very “touchy feel-y” place. The Dean came from behind me and I almost broke his nose. It was a reflex.
    I don’t want you to ever touch me.
    I don’t want to ever touch you.

    1. La Triviata*

      A place I used to work, one of the Board members would come up behind women (only women, of course), grab you and plant a smacking kiss on the cheek. ick

  86. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    A creep’s charter
    WHY would any manager take the risk of their reports being upset, scared or worse?
    What’s the possible gain to set against the substantial risk of it going badly wrong?

  87. Quill*

    I work in a laboratory, so all this talk about touch at work has me thinking “Germs! Germs on the side of my face!”

    (Handshakes are not part of proper aseptic technique.)

    1. JustaTech*

      The awesome thing about giving talks in the lab (rather than in a conference room) is that I can wear gloves and no one will try to shake my hand so I don’t have to say “oh, I’m not shaking hands right now, I have a toddler”.

      (Thought I did have a vendor once try twice to shake hands with me while I was wearing gloves – and in the middle of a procedure!)

  88. Mango Freak*

    Did they say, “We talked to a single living person who claims that without physical workplace touch, they feel unappreciated? And that person seemed otherwise reasonable to work with?

    No. I don’t need to buy the book: no, they did not say that.

  89. Oregonbird*

    Just last week I was called by my apartment manager and accused of assault. I’d had three different maintenance workers show up throughout the day, without notice or being offered any information as to what issues they were dealing with. So I asked, the latest worker explained his work, and I touched his elbow while thanking him for being helpful.

    I turned the threats being made over to my advocate – fragile senior – who found that the accusation was being used to cover multiple illegal entries.

    I find the situation to be a good example if how these work/social rules are being used by businesses, much like many laws passed to protect women’s rights – they are a way to target those we dislike and protect the status quo. Weaponizing human contact will not end well for the very people meant to be protected.

  90. Handlebar*

    I think the LW might be getting ahead of themselves a bit (and I sympathize as someone who does that to myself a lot!)

    So far their workplace is just discussing the book du jour. which has a lot of caveats about not just running up to people to bear hug them.

    Everyone here seems to think their coworkers are going to start ambushing them with hugs, back slaps, chest bumps, high fives, etc all of a sudden and I just don’t really see that happening? I think the LW should just do the old “hmm great” when their office is having its book club about this dumb book. Next month, the C-suite will be back to discussing Who Moved My Cheese? or What Color Is Your Parachute? or whatever.

  91. Tiger Snake*

    I think people are overthinking things. High-fives and handshakes are touch just as much as the hugs you want to avoid. Nothing has changed by acknowledging some people’s natural way of congratulating you is a clap on the back. There’s always been people that like to do that. Some people do that sort of thing, some people don’t like it; you step back when its offered, say no thanks and life moves on.

    That’s how it’s always been and how it will always be. This isn’t some great shift that has changed everything; it’s been a part of the way the working world works forever.

    There is nothing wrong with recognising that some people do like high fives and that’s why they offer it. But it sure does seem like there’s something wrong with trying to vilify the idea that people have different preferences to you, rather than accept people can’t read your mind and you should say “no thanks.” when the option comes up.

  92. Project Maniac-ger*

    My VP did give me a fist bump today. While it did make me feel appreciated and seen, that’s probably my whole allotment of physical touch at work for the quarter.

  93. Zarniwoop*

    quarterly all-hands meetings, where we will have “discuss and share.”’
    Good time to share “don’t ever touch me.” I’m sure if you do you’ll hear a lot of “me neither!”

    If you also choose to take the risk of sharing “and I think this is all a bunch of hooey” I bet most of the audience will agree with that too

  94. PhyllisB*

    Okay, forgive my ignorance, but what’s homophobic about the five love languages? Admittedly, I haven’t read the book but just looking at the list it seems these expressions of love can be used in all relationships.

  95. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    Oh, no.

    It is so far from okay to just dispense hugs at work that once when I was on a really bad tech support call (she’d been cold-transferred into my website support queue by some random desktop software company and started my portion of the call by yelling and crying) I honestly wanted to offer her a hug but I chose to say “I wish I could give you a cup of hot chocolate” instead. (Everyone was calmed down by that point, but I still didn’t want to risk a misstep when we’d started out on such a contentious note.)

  96. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    A far as I’m concerned, the whole “5 love languages” thing is a bunch of hooey. It has absolutely no scientific basis, and bringing it into the workplace is balderdash.

    I’ll post a link to an article debunking it in a reply to this.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Here’s the link I promised. This is a gift (non-paywall) link to a Washington Post article, no subscription needed to read it.

      Does your ‘love language’ really matter? Scientists are skeptical.

  97. Anita*

    I live in New Zealand – so a blend of United Kingdom and Polynesian cultures – from what I’m reading here were a much more workplace touch friendly culture and perhaps what was written would land much bette here.

    Absolutely some people don’t want to be touched and shouldn’t be (and shouldn’t need to justify it either), but others do. I’ve hugged many colleagues hello and good bye, kissed cheeks, rubbed noses (cultural here), patted shoulders, slapped backs, leant my head on a shoulder, etc etc.

    I would think it is useful in the workplaces I’ve been in to remember that for some people touch is a way to experience appreciation, in the same way it’s useful to remember some others value sharing food, and others value being acknowledged in private.

    You have reminded me that if I was to hire someone new to New Zealand I should talk to them about this aspect of our culture, and that no-one will judge them for opting out either.

  98. CommanderBanana*

    The 5 Love Languages is BS, anyway.*

    *If you read it and found it helpful in your life, great! No shade. But there’s zero scientific basis and the guy who wrote it is a kind of a snake oil salesman. I consider it to be the same as those self-help books that get churned out every year.

  99. M2RB*

    Absolutely not! I am NOT okay with being touched at work outside of a handshake/high five/fist bump or a very light touch on the shoulder (as in, I’m blocking a walkway and someone behind me needs to pass – they can touch me with their fingertips but if they put their whole hand on my shoulder/arm/back, I would be so skeeved out). I don’t like even being within six inches of a coworker/colleague.

  100. Anon Y. Mouse*

    “You know what makes people feel appreciated at work? MONEY.”

    Yes, physically touch me…

    With bills… by MAKING IT RAIN YEAAAAAAAHHH!!!!

  101. Jess*

    When i started at my place of work about 6 years ago, an older gent close to retirement was the only colleague in my department besides my supervisor, who was absent that day, so he was tasked with giving me training support. He came over to observe my screen, which means i was sitting basically wedged against two walls cornered with him standing and blocking my only means of exit, to answer a question. He immediately and very deliberately put a hand on my shoulder and left it there. Cue my head swiveling to glare at that hand while my whole body indeed stiffened, and the situation remained that way until his hand was removed from my person. It was only a few moments, but it felt like a lifetime.

    Could have possibly been the rest of his lifetime with the suppressed rage i felt and the nearby access to a pair of vintage metal sewing scissors lol. This bull$hit since I stated working at 15, by this point i was 48. It needs to end, not be renewed by some idiots trying to sell a book.

  102. n.m*

    Perhaps my office is at a pretty extreme end of the spectrum, but I literally don’t think any of us have ever touched each other. Unless you count like, hands coming into contact while passing a pen/paper/etc to someone. I can’t even remember the last time I saw anyone shake hands.

  103. zolk*

    I am the person who wrote in a few years ago about a vendor who wouldn’t stop hugging me (and only me) and that I dislike being touched even by family. So sure, touch can be a language of appreciation, but in my case it’s “I appreciate you not touching me”. This is bananas.

  104. Raida*

    I think you need to be clear during training on the Appreciation Languages that it’s not *only* about how people feel best expressing themselves, it’s about understanding there is not a guarantee the recipient is the same and your appreciation should be tailored *to the recipient*, not to yourself.

    While also understanding that as other people naturally express themselves differently, helping to minimise miscommunications, of course.

    So if you would NOT want to be patted on the shoulder or given a fist bump – then this is an opportunity to clearly outline that, and state your expectations that this part of the purpose of the Languages being utilised.

    IF your business thinks that actually they just want everyone to express express express gratitude, THEN you know there’s an issue – but one that can be fixed via a clear message that unwanted physical touch is not something the business can legally just include in feedback policies because its’ an unsafe environment

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