Learning to Speak Other Peoples’ Languages


When I was young, there was a book circulating in my group of friends that focused on the idea of “love languages.” The concept being that different people feel loved in different ways. They also show love in different ways. The goal of the book was to convey the fact that if you would take the time to understand the ‘love languages’ of those around you, you could then show them love in their way, rather than your default format, thereby making them feel the love that you’re actually trying to show them.

If a boy feels love when someone spends time with him but a girl spends a bunch of money on him instead, he feels unsatisfied. If she were to take the time to learn that he needs love in the form of time, she could adequately convey her love for him in a way that would hit home.

Make sense?

The same holds true for dealing with people in platonic and business relationships. Learning to speak other peoples’ language is a skill that seems to have gone under the radar. We’ve gotten a bit too eager to seek out the skill of asserting ourselves. We’ve bought into the idea that to be true to who we are, we must be uncompromisingly ‘us’ all the time and if you can’t handle it, then that’s your problem.

It’s false.


Arguments and fights in our studio are rooted in this issue 95% of the time. One person is direct and says exactly what they mean. Another is more emotional and nuanced in how they communicate. Neither party takes the time to understand the other’s interaction style. Both parties get massively frustrated.

It’s an observable transformation, like a disease. When you spot it early and watch it turn from two well-intentioned individuals solving a problem to two red-faced, tight-lipped badgers ready to tear each other apart… you’ll see the value in learning other peoples’ languages.

Take the time to observe your colleagues, especially those you seem to butt heads with. How do they interact? How do they say yes or no? Are they direct? How do they interact with those they get along with? Asking questions like these and observing the answers will lead you towards how this person needs information and how they supply it.


Before jumping into a contentious argument, think about what you’re trying to accomplish in the conversation. Often you’ll find that both (or all) parties want the same thing, but their delivery is off. Don’t let your ultimate objective get stalled by differences in style.

Styles are huge, they make us unique. The way I interact with a person may be different than you. Your strategy for dealing with an issue may be vastly different than mine. Styles are unique and everyone has a perspective, but they are a means to an end. The end being your goal.

Don’t get caught up in minor things. Sometimes methods and style are worth arguing about, for the sake of the collective goal. Identify those goals and determine if & how the issue at hand effects the goal. If everyone in the car wants to go to Pizza Hut but you spend your time in the garage arguing about the best route to drive there, you’ll all starve… and you’re all idiots.


I know it may be hard to believe, but it’s also possible that you’re the problem. Just like with anything else in life, if your approach isn’t working, you may need to change it. It’s not quite the answer most folks are offering up these days, but I believe we should be continually working to better ourselves.

Think about your own delivery of ideas and concepts. Think about the times they landed and the times they failed — what happened? What went right and why? What went wrong and how could you do it better? Where were you shortsighted or close-minded? How do you get better?

In my experience, the concept usually isn’t the issue, it’s the person presenting and the established biases around that person; the leftover, unresolved issues you have with him or her. Multiple times I’ve seen the same concept given by two people back to back — one is destroyed and one lands with ease. The audience’s issue was driven more by who the presenter was than by what they were saying.


Finally, there will be times when this just doesn’t work. You observe, you think about your goals, you try to change your approach, but to no avail. When that happens, and it will, from a calm and honest place, deal with these issues face to face. Handle these issues swiftly, don’t let them fester. Like any other problem, resolve to find a solution and learn from the experience.

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2012/12/12/learning-to-speak-other-peoples-languages/)

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