Sweat The Small Stuff

Of the many influencers on team spirit, none has a greater impact than the quality of our professional relationships. Whether between managers and their staff, amongst colleagues, or between customers and suppliers, the interactions people experience on a day-to-day basis make the biggest difference to how they feel at work. Enjoying what we do, having a belief in ourselves and our organisation and feeling that we are making a meaningful contribution all significantly impact our spirit and ultimately that of the team as a whole.  In my experience, however, when relationships are strained, how people feel about their work is typically diminished. Today’s Karen Gately blog explores how ‘sweating the small stuff’ of professional relationships can help your team to be more successful.

There are lots of sophisticated things we can do to influence team spirit and engagement. While undoubtedly these strategies can be important, they must be executed on a solid foundation of healthy relationships built on trust and respect, or their relevance and effectiveness will be undermined. Often what matters the most are the small things; the things that some dismiss as trivial or inconsequential. While most of us appreciate the generous and even lavish things others do for us from time to time, I believe it’s the smaller everyday things that have the biggest influence on how we feel about one another.

Through working with individuals and teams to support development of healthier working relationships, I have come to believe there are 7 sacred things we all need to do:

  1. Say ‘Good morning’

A book could be written about why this is important, but the summary version is it’s a matter of courtesy.  Most people will take it as a sign of respect if you invest the very little time and effort it takes to greet them.  If you work with a large team it isn’t necessary or always practical to do the rounds and greet every person.  But walking in each day with your eyes to the ground or generally avoiding making contact is likely to be noticed and have a negative impact. At the very least you need to put a general “Morning” out there to those in ear shot.  Most people are reasonable and don’t expect you to go to extreme lengths but they are likely to respect you less if you routinely ignore them each morning. In an ideal world you will let people know you are leaving for the day. However, if you typically start the day by greeting people, most are likely to forgive (and even not notice) if you fail to say goodbye.

2. Be polite

Conducting ourselves with courtesy and tact are crucial components of building trusting and respectful relationships; there are endless examples but to name a few:

  • Choose your words deliberately to minimize the chances of causing offence.
  • Be careful not to inappropriately disclose or discuss sensitive issues.
  • Never bark orders and demands at people, ask nicely instead.
  • Please is a popular word; while most of us don’t always notice when it’s used, we do when it isn’t.
  • Don’t ignore people – answer when you are asked a question; if you don’t have the answer let them know that.  This is of course true when we are communicating face to face, but in our world of ever growing technology, this applies to emails too.

3. Say thank-you

We don’t need to make a big song and dance about everything people do and showing appreciation certainly doesn’t need to cost money. A simple thank you can go a long way to making people feel relevant and appreciated. It’s important not to save our thanks for just the big moments, even the day to day effort that people put in deserves credit. Yes – people are paid to do their jobs, but saying thank you can make a big difference in helping people feel valued and inspiring them to dig deeper and give more than a compliant contribution.

4. Hold the ‘tude’

While we are all capable of becoming frustrated and losing our cool, it’s important in these times that we avoid having or projecting a destructive attitude.  To earn, as well as keep the trust and respect of the people we work with, it’s crucial that we avoid being judgmental, sarcastic, cynical or mocking others and their contributions. Loading comments with attitude is likely to get most people’s backs up, as is being dismissive or trivializing the concerns they express. At the end of the day, having either an aggressive or defensive attitude does little for harmony or effectiveness of relationships and teams.

5. Leave your door open (if you have one)

We often work with clients to help them understand why their teams are struggling to work effectively.  A number of years ago I was on such an assignment and on the first day I visited their office I observed a manager with their door closed. That wasn’t particularly unusual but the large print sign on the door – “Do not disturb unless you have an appointment. I am available from 12 – 1pm each day” – was a very revealing insight to the culture of the business. While this may be an extreme example, I often hear people complain about their boss or colleagues being locked away behind closed doors, inaccessible and perceived to be avoiding connecting and working with others in their team. Of course there are times when confidentiality and sensitivity demand the door be closed, but I encourage you to consider how often that is really necessary.

6. Acknowledge when we are wrong

Too often I observe people defending their position and digging their heels in despite having come to a clear (and often widely observable) realization that they are wrong.  To save face and avoid accountability, most of us are capable of continuing an argument that has clearly been lost. It can be incredibly powerful to the health of relationships when we back off and acknowledge that we are wrong. When we deny our mistakes, fail to operate with an open spirit or refuse to shift our perspective in the face of compelling evidence, trust and respect are eroded. The good news is that when we do acknowledge we are wrong, most people will give us credit and both trust and respect are earned.

7. Listen and Learn

Communication is key! And critically, a two way street. While it’s important to share information, the health of any relationship is equally dependent upon all parties feeling heard. Most people are capable of listening to hear the information being expressed but few are as skilled at listening to understand. People don’t always clearly express their perspective and certainly don’t share everything on their mind. Listening deeply allows us to ask more questions, or explore further the other person’s point of view.  Even if you do disagree and ultimately don’t do what people hope, if they feel they have been heard and considered they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.

While there are many more influencers of healthy relationships, when it comes to what matters most at work, these are the seven I commonly observe.  Whether as a boss or colleague, a supplier or client, I encourage everyone to be a positive contributor to building healthy relationships in the workplace; our individual and collective happiness depends on it.


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