Winning with Kids

How to Win Lovers and Influence Co-WorkersCars have a four-stroke (or “four-cylinder”) engine, and lawn mowers have a two-stroke engine. But did you know that people have a five-stroke engine?

“It doesn’t feel like you love me when you hardly even appreciate me,” my wife told me. “I do some pretty amazing things, but to you they’re only worth a mildly enthusiastic acknowledgement.”

Huh? Just a few weeks earlier, on a whim I bought Erin a very thoughtful book that I knew she’d enjoy (and she did). Then on Valentine’s Day, I bought her Godiva chocolates (doesn’t that spell “love” to every woman?). And a short while later, I brought her flowers. How could she not feel loved?

The problem was that I was focusing on only one of the five strokes (Gifts), and it happened to be the stroke that is the least meaningful for Erin.

After many years of marriage counseling, Dr. Gary Chapman noticed a pattern: everyone he had ever counseled had what he calls a “love language,” a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. In The 5 Love Languages (which has sold five million copies), Dr. Chapman says that of the countless ways we can show love (or approval), five categories proved to be universal — everyone has a love language, and we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages.

I like to think in terms of a five-stroke engine that needs to be fueled, because it’s not just about love. Psychologist Kevin Leman says the five also apply to approval and respect — how you communicate approval and respect to others, and how you interpret how others are treating you.

To understand and remember all five strokes, I refer to the “cliff notes” versions rather than an entire book — there is a concise and enjoyable chapter on this topic in Dr. Leman’s book Have a New You by Friday, or a similar chapter in Andy Andrews’ book The Noticer. Both authors make them easier to remember because they associate each with a pet animal:

  1. Words of affirmation or approval (Dog). A dog loves to be praised. My wife is not a dog (she’s a fox!), but words are one of the biggest strokes for her. Erin gets revved up when I recognize specific examples of her talents, smarts, and personal charms. She doesn’t “feel the love” unless I talk about her unique qualities and achievements (and it doesn’t work to compliment her in vague ways like, “You are beautiful and smart”).
  2. Quality time (Parrot). Unlike certain other pet birds, parrots require plenty of attention, otherwise they become lonely and sad. Many kids (especially teenagers) feel your approval most when you spend time with them and pay them attention. Simple acts such as laying with them at bed-time or watching their sports activities go a long way.
  3. Gifts (chicken). Chickens get excited when you bring them a special gift of food, such as leftover veggies or fruit. My sister-in-law never forgets to give thoughtful gifts at all the right moments, which is a clue that gifts are probably an important stroke for her happiness.
  4. Acts of service (Goldfish). Goldfish seem perfectly happy as long as you feed them and keep their bowl clean. Leman tells a story of a guy whose wife is a “Martha Stewart” type. She is super-thoughtful for her husband — keeping his closet perfectly organized, making elaborate meals, and even picking out birthday cards for him to send his friends and colleagues. That’s a clue that she also feels most revved up when her husband does things to help her.
  5. Physical touch (Cat). A cat likes nothing better than being pet. Babies and children desperately need frequent physical contact. My wife, too, needs non-sexual touches from me as reassurance that I care about her, even when I’m not “turned on.” Remember that “Martha Stewart” lady? Leman says that despite her acts of service, her husband felt absolutely unloved. Like 90% of husbands, Leman says, he needed his wife’s physical assurance (in both sexual and non-sexual ways) that he was attractive and important to her.

Understanding the stroke that is most meaningful to your wife or girlfriend is not a secret formula to her heart (she is, after all, a complex creature — and anyway, she would rather feel pursued than have a formula applied to her). But it can help avoid frustration and misunderstanding, because you can show that you care in ways that are meaningful to her; and you can help her understand which stroke shows you she cares for you, too.

Understanding these five strokes can also help you connect better with your kids and meet their need for love and approval. And it can even help you influence and inspire — or at least get along with — your co-workers. “Empathy is an important first step in trying to understand those around us,” said author Craig Morgan, “a step that will help us communicate and interact in a more productive and rewarding manner with the people in our lives.”

For more on this topic, check out Man Cave Radio episode 23.

Think of one or two of the most significant people in your life. How can you best rev up their 5-stroke engine?


Karate class.I got my butt kicked last night by a girl — a pleasant high school student, who happens to be a black belt in my karate class.

Okay, she didn’t actually kick my butt. She kicked my chest, hard enough to make me lose my breath, and hard enough to make my ribs so sore that I couldn’t sleep on my right side last night. Then, after apologizing profusely about my chest, she kicked my nose.

I finally did manage to kick her butt. Literally. Unfortunately, that’s as high as I could kick, and the butt zone doesn’t score a point in karate sparring.

Still, I felt proud about the experience. Why? I got kicked in the face by a black belt, and although it hurt like crazy, I didn’t cry. (The last time I got popped in the face was 20 years ago. I didn’t cry then, either.) As David Powers shared in “Wanna to Join a Fight Club?” it is empowering to know that I can still survive a blow to the face.

(I should admit that she was going easy on me, and didn’t kick nearly as hard as she could have. In fact, the reason her foot connected with my face is because I chose to start an awkward move that brought my face closer than she’d expected.)

I never thought I would learn karate. Martial arts and self-defense never had the slightest appeal to me. Karate caught my interest by surprise when two of my kids started taking lessons offered by a friend of the family. Danny and Cecily had been taking lessons for three months already when I finally showed up to watch — that’s how little the topic of karate interested me. But when I saw the athletic nature of their lessons, and the mix of young and old students, I realized there were clear reasons why the average guy like me would benefit from learning karate.

  1. Each class provides a great cross-training workout. Especially in the winter, I have a hard time staying interested in exercise. My weekly karate class provides a fun mix of stretching, strength-training, and cardio that leaves me sweaty and exhausted.
  2. It’s a great experience with your kids. There is something special about learning something new and challenging, right alongside my kids. I think the three of us will grow closer through this experience, and create positive memories that last a lifetime.
  3. It teaches humility. In our class, there is almost no segregation of beginners from advanced students. I see very clearly (and sometime painfully) how bad I suck compared to the green and red belts. And yet, because of the mutual respect in the class, I feel totally comfortable with my novice skills and can enjoy the learning process.
  4. It teaches patience. After my very first class, I felt I had already mastered the techniques needed to gradate from white-belt status to yellow-belt (and get caught up to Danny and Cecily). But the tests are offered only about four times a year, so I spent three months refining those techniques. Given my personality type and birth order, it was hard to be patient, but it helped me to practice those fundamentals into my muscle memory — and to “enjoy now” rather than merely look forward to a destination.
  5. It brings to light just how important stretching is. As we age, stretching becomes more important to avoid injury and maintain an active lifestyle; many people stop their favorite activities due to pains that would go away if they properly stretched. It’s easy to ignore the need to stretch. In karate, I can’t ignore it — every class reminds me that I need to stretch or else I’ll never be able to kick higher than my opponent’s butt.
  6. It builds self-confidence. Though I’m still a novice karate student, there is something about learning self-defense that is already impacting my confidence level. If faced with a threat to my family, I still would attempt a diplomatic solution, but I would be negotiating from a stronger position.
  7. It increases respect for women. At first, I felt uncomfortable sparring against women and girls in my class. I’ve always been taught to protect and defend women. In sparring, we try to avoid hurting our classmates; we’re merely putting our learned techniques into practice. When we spar against a lower-skilled or timid student (which includes over half of the females in my class), we are more careful to be encouraging and protective. Last night I sparred against a timid, 8-year-old girl, and yet I felt completely in line with my wiring to protect women. In the same night, the aforementioned black belt, as well as my 13-year-old daughter Cecily, both sparred against me with higher levels of skill and aggressiveness — definitely making me respect their strong femininity.

For more on this topic, check out episode 22,

Question: What are you doing to bring these kinds of benefits into your life?


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