Can This Marriage (Customer, Team, Leader) Be Saved?

Posted 03.28.2011

Marriage1 Last week, I got a call from an executive in a client organization. He had just had a conversation with an important customer who said his team wasn’t showing up like they used to and didn’t have that can-do spirit anymore. As we were talking, he said he felt like the relationship with the customer had gotten into a rut and was wondering what his team could do to charge things up again. I said to him that the situation reminded me of one of those articles that ask  “Can this marriage be saved?”  We had a good laugh about that but then realized that maybe we were on to something.

Think about it. A lot of the problems leaders deal with in their work come down to the other party not feeling loved and appreciated. Same thing with marriages. Customer feeling like you don’t care as much as you used to? They’re not feeling loved and appreciated. Employees leaving for grass is greener over there opportunities? They’re not feeling loved and appreciated.  If you’re really honest with yourself, you probably worry yourself sometimes whether or not you’re loved and appreciated.

All of this got me thinking about a book I heard about years ago by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages.” It’s a how to guide on keeping your marriage strong or getting it out of the ditch if it’s gone off track. I took a look at Chapman’s five love languages this morning and concluded that they’ve got some application to saving customers, teams and leaders as well as marriages.

Here’s how:

  • Words of Affirmation:  I’m always astounded by those Valentine’s Day cards that say something like, “Even though, I never tell you, I really do love you.” Man, if you have to buy a card that says that, you’re in trouble.  Same thing with your customers and employees. In ways that are appropriate, you gotta tell them you love them and why on a regular basis.
  • Quality Time:  When was the last time you scheduled some time to just catch up without having a five point agenda of the major items that you wanted to get through? What kind of quality time have you had with your key customers and employees lately?
  • Receiving Gifts:  OK, nobody is suggesting that you violate codes of ethics or the law and start handing out bribes. A gift in a marriage means the most when the spouse feels like, “Wow, you really get me and this gifts shows that.”  Same thing with your customers and employees. The gift can be entirely non-material. If it shows some thought, effort and understanding, it sends a message of appreciation.
  • Acts of Service:  In 24 years of marriage, I’ve learned that nothing makes my wife happier than doing some chores that aren’t part of my regular routine. What can you, as a leader, do to serve your customers and employees in ways they don’t expect?
  • Physical Touch:  OK, now we’re getting into some sketchy territory. Stay with me, though. Why do we shake hands or literally give pats on the back in the workplace?  They establish connection. If it comes from a sincere place (and isn’t creepy), a little physical contact now and then (fist bumps, high fives, handshakes and back pats (not rubs!) sound safe) can let people know you care.

So, that’s how I think Gary Chapman’s five languages of love might apply to getting your work relationships back on track. What do you think? How important is it that the people you work with or for feel loved and appreciated? What signs of love and appreciation at work have meant a lot to you?