Cope with Work Relationship Problems Strategically

Finding the best solutions by working together

Aside from sleep, work takes up most of our time.  And, the most challenging aspects of work are often the clashes with coworkers, clients, management or employees.

Learning how to cope with work relationship problems strategically will reduce your stress and make your job easier.

Psychologists say you can cope by solving a problem (problem-focused coping), or you can cope by avoiding a problem (emotion-focused coping).  Ideally, solving a problem would permanently remove the stress, but as some problems are not easily solved, avoiding the problem also will result in stress reduction.  Often, you can engage in problem avoidance strategies while simultaneously working on solutions.

The steps are outlined below:

Cope with Problems

1. Understand the problem and determine the desired outcome. Maybe this is obvious, but don’t make assumptions about the problem and don’t try to solve a problem without knowing what you want as an outcome.  Let’s take the problem of an employee who habitually comes in late as an example.  You could assume that the employee is late because of poor planning or a lackadaisical attitude, and deal with the problem punitively, or you could find out why the employee is late (maybe their childcare provider is habitually late) and help them explore solutions, while setting clear expectations.

2. Plan. Consider solution approaches.

  • Adapt a solution from a similar situation—consider using solutions that have worked in similar situations.  Have you had other employees come in late?  What have you done?  If you don’t have a highly similar situation, consider a similar situation, maybe even from your personal life.  If your teenager is late for school, how do you cope with that?
  •  Use a Process.  Some relationship problems occur regularly.  Have a proven process in place, and maybe even a script.  Once you have had a problem, take notes!  When it happens again, review the notes and develop a process.  If you work for a large company, your HR department may already have processes in place.  Having a process in place encourages consistency and fairness, and saves you the time you might agonize over what to do.
  • Model the problem with role-playing. Practice your solution.  At the very least, do a dry-run in your head.  Better yet, practice with someone else.
  • Divide and conquer. Break down a big, complex problem into smaller, more easily solvable problems.  Perhaps there are multiple problems that contribute to the problem of being late.  Consider addressing the smaller problems first.
  • Use Trial-and-Error.  Trial-and-Error can be preferable to doing nothing, if the steps are small and without grave consequences. In the case of the late employee, you can start with simply asking the employee to come in on time and telling the employee why it’s important (to both the company and the employee).  If that does not yield the desired results, you can try having a problem-solving discussion, perhaps using a “divide and conquer” approach.  Then, if lateness is still an issue, you can try something else, like a written agreement, spelling out expectations and consequences for not meeting the expectations.
  • Brainstorm:  You can do this alone, but you can also do it with another person, or in a group, if the issue is not confidential. Brainstorming a large number of solutions (let the Post-It Notes fly!) and then reduce the number of solutions by using the above methods.

3. Do. Carry out your solution plan.

4. Check. Check your results.

5. Adjust. If the outcome is not achieved, consider adjusting your understanding, your desired outcome and your solution approach.

6. Consider problem avoidance strategies.  A few avoidance strategies:

  • Ignore. Some problems, especially if they are minor and not likely to recur aren’t worth the energy to solve, or to even avoid.  (e.g. someone is late to work because they were in a car accident).
  • Separate.  Physically separate the problem or conflict-inducing entities.  Move seats. Adjust schedules.
  • Redirect.  Change the subject to one on which there is agreement.
  • Distract.  Distract yourself or the other person with something more engaging, preferably something that is fun, relaxing or mentally stimulating in a way that is very different than the problem at hand.  Give yourself a “time-out” from the problem by going to the employee lounge, listening to music, or switching to a task that you are excited about.
  • Reframe.  Look at the problem another way. Consider the significance to the “big picture” or to a longer timeline.  Ask yourself, “will this matter in 5 years?”  Consider how the problem might look from another individuals point of view. Or, better yet, ask yourself, “what is the opportunity in this problem?”  An employee’s poor communication skills become an opportunity for learning.  Loss of a major client becomes an opportunity to grow existing clients and find new, possibly better clients.
  • Delay. Put it off until “later.”  Agree to address the problem at a later time, if putting it off won’t have dire consequences.
  • Avoid Triggers.  With experience, you will learn that certain things may trigger or escalate a problem. It’s often easy to see what triggers other people, but you have your own triggers, too.  For example, when people are late for an appointment with me, I find that somewhat irritating.  I used to find it extremely irritating.  I have avoided triggering my anger response by modifying my own behavior.  I have a plan in place.  First, I almost always confirm appointments the day before with an email.  Second, if someone is more than 10 minutes late, I call them and ask if they are on their way (which means that I have taken the time to make sure I have their cell phone number). Third, if I end up waiting, I always have something to do, rather than fume (with a smart phone, this is easy—email, Facebook, Kindle Reader and more are available). Finally, if necessary, I will reschedule.

Do you have any additional coping strategies for solving, or temporarily avoiding problems?

This post is 5th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.

Don’t Just Empower: 4 Ways to Share Power

Power Sharing

It was a lesson I learned playing tug-of-war in gym class: None of us is as powerful as all of us.

Even the weakest of us had power that could make a difference.  Nobody had to “empower” us.

Empowerment is a concept that on the surface sounds good, until you really think about what it means.  The prefix “em” means to “put into.”  To empower people is to put power into them, to enable them to do something.  Well, that’s better than complete domination, but it is still top-down control.

What if companies went beyond mere empowerment and instead maximized everyone’s power?

Not power to dominate.  Power to liberate.  Power to create.  Power to share.

Shared power leads to shared knowledge.  Shared knowledge leads to better performance.  Better performance leads to better results.

Here are 4 ways to get started with power sharing:

  1. Ask. Ask people, “What do you need to provide your best value to this organization?” or, “What needs to change for you to provide your best value?”
  2. Share information and resources.  Provide information and resources (including training) that others may not even realize can help them provide their best value.
  3. Share roles and responsibilities.  Consider co-facilitation of meetings, for example.  Some roles and responsibilities could even be rotated, which will also deepen empathy and understanding among team members.  Or, you could let someone who reports to you at work attend a meeting in your place.
  4. Share reasons.  Better yet, develop the reasons “why” together.  People buy in to what they help create.

How have you shared power?

“In the past a leader was a boss.  Today’s leaders must be partners with their people . . . they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.” –Ken Blanchard

This post is 4th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

Create Moments of Connection at Work in 2 Minutes

2 minutes to engagement Engagement is such a buzzword these days. Employee engagement. Customer engagement. Brand engagement. Social media engagement.

Study after study shows that greater engagement leads to greater retention, better satisfaction, better health and higher profits.

If engagement is so good, what are you doing personally, every day, to increase engagement at work or in your business?

Engagement can be not only part of an overall organizational engagement strategy, but it also can be part of your personal engagement strategy. Your engaging personally, connecting with people one-on-one, creating moments of connection, builds up an emotional bank account, which can grow your business or your career. It also can create a cushion of loyalty when times get tough.

Isn’t that worth 2 minutes a day?

Here are some simple, 2-minute actions you can take every day to build up that emotional bank account with others:

1. Chit Chat. Really. You can start talking about the weather, even. Start with something you both have in common.

Things in common = similarity –>increased connection.

Try this simple, yet effective small talk technique:

a. Observe. Make a comment on something that you and the other person can both observe or that you have in common (event, situation, something you see). It doesn’t need to be witty.
b. Transition. (optional) Make a transition comment that relates #a (your observation) to #c (the question) by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself. You can often skip the transition, but by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself, you foster a sense of connection.
c. Ask. Ask a question.
d. Comment. Follow up with a comment relevant to their response.
e. Ask another question and continue a little back and forth chit chat.

For example, let’s say you are walking by someone’s desk and you notice a family picture.

Observe: What a good-looking family!
Transition: That reminds me of when my kids were little.
Ask: How old are your kids? (response: 1, 3 and 7)
Comment: I bet they keep you busy!
Ask another question: Are you doing anything fun with them this summer?

To extend the moment of connection, take note of some details of the conversation to bring up at a later time. I know I feel more connected with people who remember some details about me or what we talked about. For my business clients, I record details of conversations on a CRM (Customer Relationship Management)  tool and add scheduled tasks to remind me to touch base.

For example, I was working with a client on a presentation and I knew that the presentation was going to be in a week, on Friday. I put a task in my CRM tool to send her an email on Thursday wishing her well on her presentation. She told me twice, once in email and once in person how much she appreciated my brief words of encouragement.

2. Invite them to something you are already going to.

  • Meals. You have to eat. Why not use that time to build relationships?
  • Events/Activities. Do you share an interest? Why not invite them to join you?
  • Volunteer effort for a charitable cause that both you and they care about.
  • Meetings, if appropriate.

3. Show sincere appreciation.

Don’t just say thank you. Make your thanks be sincere, timely and show significance.

Sincere = from the heart, not just a perfunctory “thank you.”
Timely = as soon as reasonably possible
Show significance = to illuminate the significant impact their action had

When possible, make your appreciation public. Public appreciation, at a meeting for example, not only lets you express your gratitude, but you also elevate the person in the eyes of others.

 4. Use multiple modes of communication.

In-person is great, but not always practical. What other ways does the person communicate? Phone. Text. Email. Skype. Google Hangouts. Chat. Direct messages on Twitter. Facebook or LinkedIn messages. A quick video. Or, go old-school and send something snail mail. Just make sure that you aren’t forcing the other person to communicate in ways they don’t want to.

You never know where attempting moments of connection will lead you! A few years ago, I did an assignment for a class which required doing an exercise on someone’s website. I was so impressed with the exercise that I blogged about it and then sent a link to that blog post to the creator of the exercise. She was pleased that I saw value in the exercise and that I promoted its use. From there, we connected on social media sites, email, phone and Skype. We eventually co-authored a book together. Several months after the book was published, we met in person for the first time.

What can you communicate to increase connection?

  • Provide information or resources you think they would appreciate (but don’t sell)
  • Offer congratulations
  • Offer appreciation (see #3)
  • Provide an introduction to someone they would like to meet
  • Respond timely to their communications with you

That last one, responding timely, is a deal-breaker for me. When someone doesn’t respond to my emails, it makes me feel like I’m not very important to them. Of course, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, realizing that my email might have gotten trapped in their spam filter or that their response time is just slower (personally, I try to get back to people within 24 hours in most cases). Even if your complete response will take a while, at least get back with people to let them know you received the email and will get back with them by a certain date.

Do you have quick ways to create moments of connection with employees, co-workers, or clients?

This post is 3rd in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

The Respect Virus: 7 Ways to Spread It at Work

The Respect VirusWhat if respect were a virus?  Would you help spread it?

Respect costs little, but the benefits to productivity, a positive work culture and bottom line profits are priceless!

(second in the series based on the blog post  7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work).

Try these simple tips!

Show honor and respect (2)

1. Be considerate (the Platinum Plus Rule)
Being considerate is more than just mere politeness.  It means taking the focus off yourself and considering others’ perspectives and treating them as they would wish to be treated (the Platinum Rule, which I slightly modified to be the Platinum Plus Rule: treat other people the way their best self would want your best self to treat them).

The challenge here is to get outside of your own head. Try to zoom out of your own perspective and look at situations from the perspective of the other person, or even that of an impartial observer to get the big picture.  Play an imaginary game of perspective chairs.

3 chairs
2. Get to know people

Of course, to truly be considerate, to treat other people as they would want to be treated, you have to know people both generally and specifically.  Learning about people and how to get along with them generally is a critical part of a professional development plan. Books, classes, websites and assessments abound to help you better understand people.

Try taking a simple assessment to understand your own personality.  Or, your entire group could take an assessment and you could map out the personalities.  Just for fun, I took one of the many free DISC personality tests online (the DISC personality test measures 4 factors of personality:  Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance).  Here are my results from 123test.com 

DISC

Your scores, especially the highest and lowest scores, can give you some insight as to where you might have some perspective issues. As I scored very low on compliance, I might, for example, butt heads with someone on sticking to rules.  What I might see as an efficient way to get something done (by circumventing rules), might seem risky to someone with a higher compliance score.

Getting to know people generally, however, does not take the place of getting to know them more specifically.  That kind of knowledge can best be obtained by spending time with them.  It can be as simple as stopping by someone’s desk (MBWA–Management By Walking Around) instead of emailing them or texting them.  Or,  get out of the office and have a “Walking Meeting.”    A little change of scenery and some exercise are bonuses!

3. Listen to and encourage ideas

It’s hard to know people if you never listen to them.  Listening, not just waiting for your turn to talk, is probably the number one way to show respect, and to find out what makes them tick.  The magic combo is to listen and to encourage ideas, chiefly by asking questions and providing positive verbal encouragement (“tell me more about that . . . ” and body language (leaning forward, nodding, pleasant expression).  Not only will you get some good ideas, but the other person will feel valued and respected.  Some behaviors to avoid when listening:

  • Don’t use negative non-verbals such as: eye-rolling, head-shaking, sighing
  • Don’t use stop-sign statements.  These are statements that are like a big red stop sign (Examples: “You’re wrong.” or “That’s stupid) .  If the other person keeps talking after you have thrown up a stop-sign statement, they risk getting run over.   If you feel the urge to say something like “you’re wrong,”  ask a question instead (in a friendly “we’re-all-in-this-together” tone).   “I don’t quite understand how that will work . . . can you show me how . . .?”

4. Make empathetic requests

Nobody likes to be told to do things, even if you say “please” at the start.  The secret to having people feel respected when you make a request (and also one of the secrets to getting them to comply) is to couch the request in terms of their point of view, empathizing with their situation and then explaining the importance of your request.

So instead of saying:  “Christine, can you please organize the prospective membership database?”

Try saying: “Christine, I can only imagine how busy you are having to deal with all the requests from the newly elected officers, but our recruitment kick-off is coming up soon and we need to get all the prospective members information organized.  We need you to get that information together in the next month.  Is that reasonable?”

5. Focus on facts, not assumptions

“The road to hell is paved with bad assumptions.” –Diane Windingland

A misunderstood person does not feel respected.  Most misunderstandings stem from people making bad assumptions.

Here’s an example that happened to my husband, Kim, at work when he was a young engineer in his 20s:

Manager:  How long have you lived in this country?

Kim:  I grew up here.

Manager:  Well, why don’t you learn English?

Ouch.  The manager assumed that my husband had poor grammar because he didn’t “learn English.”  The problem was that my husband was hearing impaired, due to an unfortunate encounter with a firecracker when he was six.  He didn’t speak correctly because he didn’t hear correctly.   It would have been more respectful for the manager to focus on the facts, such as saying (in a private conversation):  “Communicating effectively is an important part of working with people.  I notice when you speak that you sometimes leave the ends off words.  Were you aware of this?”

6.  Create an inclusive culture

Treat people fairly regardless of race, color, political views, gender, age, etc.  Make diversity training a part of your work environment.  Focus also on similarities–however people are different, they are more the same than different. People who can see similarities despite differences are more likely to like and respect each other.  Team-building activities can encourage bonding and create shared experiences, which increase feelings of similarity.

Beyond diversity issues, freely share information and resources, where confidentiality is not an issue.

7. Offer sincere praise generously

Having a positive to negative ratio of at least 3 positives to every 1 negative will increase people’s productivity, according to researcher Barbara Fredrickson.

Effective praise is:

  • sincere (not manipulative),
  • timely  (a once-a-year performance review is not enough)
  • specific (as to what was observed and the positive impact)

Try keeping a praise log to record positive performance.

Praise log screen capture

Encourage others to catch someone doing something well!  Where my husband works, they have an informal program that allows anyone to recognize anyone else with a small reward (a gift card).

I’d love to hear specific ways you, your business or where you work shows respect!

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

The Platinum Plus Rule: Honor and Respect of Best Selves

Platinum Plus Rule“You know, my mom is mad at you,” said my husband as we were driving home from visiting his parents many years ago.

“What? Why?”

“You didn’t help with the dishes.”

“I offered to help,” I said, “but she said ‘no.'”

“You only asked once,” he said,  “You have to ask three times, and insist on the third time.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No.  That’s just how she does it–refusing the first few offers of help, but giving in when you insist.”

I was speechless for a moment. I felt badly that I had let my mother-in-law down.  I felt misunderstood.

I had offered to help with the dishes, but respected that it was her house and that she had the right to do things her way, which might include me not helping. So, I accepted her “no” at face-value.

I had treated my mother-in-law the way that I would want to be treated. I had applied the Golden Rule.

Many people consider the Golden Rule to be at the root of respect:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  

But,  there is a problematic assumption in the Golden Rule:  “Other people are like me.”  The problem is that how you want to be treated may not be how other people want to be treated.

Enter the Platinum Rule:  Do unto others what they would have you do unto them (Treat other people the way they want to be treated).

The Platinum Rule is more empathetic than the Golden Rule.  And in the case with my mother-in-law and the dishes, after I realized how the “dish game” was played, I changed my behavior to treat my mother-in-law the way she wanted to be treated.

The Platinum Rule is an improvement on the Golden Rule, but, I see three main challenges with the Platinum Rule:

1. How people want to be treated may be in conflict with your values/morals.

2. How people want to be treated may be harmful to them.

3. How people want to be treated is limited by their own imagination.

For example, If a panhandler approaches you for money, the Platinum Rule would dictate that you give them some money.  However, it might be against your values to give money to beggars.  You might think that giving the beggar money could be harmful, if he uses it to buy alcohol.  Or, you might have something even better than money that you could give the beggar, like a job.

So, I propose the Platinum Plus Rule.

The Platinum Plus Rule:  Treat other people the way their best self would want your best self to treat them.

If your best self doesn’t want to give money because that is in conflict with your values and because you think giving money directly could result in harm, but at the same time your best self respects the humanity of the human being in front of you, you will explore other options  (offering to get some food, talking a little bit with the person to determine how you could help in a way that would be mutually agreeable, even respectfully saying “no”).

Your thoughts?

This post is a tangential diversion in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.  The next post will look at practical ways to apply the related Business Principle 2: Give Them Honor and Respect (The Respect Virus: 7 Ways to Spread It at Work)

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

10 Ways to Learn What Makes People Tick at Work

What Makes Them Tick

“Winners know what makes people tick by effectively tapping into our fears and aspirations. By listening very carefully and then repeating almost word-for-word exactly what they’ve heard, winners know how to articulate compelling needs—and products to satisfy those needs—that people didn’t even know they wanted.”

–Frank I. Luntz, Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary

What do women want?  For that matter what does anyone want?  How can you discover what makes people tick?  Here are 10 ways to learn what makes people tick in business relationships.

(first in a series based on the blog post 7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work)

1. Dig up information

How much can you find out about someone before you even meet? The more you know, the closer you will be to knowing what makes them tick. Why fly by the seat of your pants, when being prepared is so easy?

Do a little detective work prior to a first meeting or phone call. If you are short on time, at least google the person’s name. You can find a lot of information about a person in just a few minutes simply by googling their name using quotes, like this: “Diane Windingland” (quotes might not be necessary for an unusual name like mine, though). You can also include their location in the search to narrow results. Check the person’s profiles on social sites, especially LinkedIn, but also on Facebook (the amount you see depends on privacy settings).

Do you have contacts in common? Touch base with mutual acquaintances. It can be as simple as saying to your mutual acquaintance, “I’m thinking of working with Jane Doe and noticed that you are a connection on LinkedIn. How do you know each other?”

Now, you don’t want to come across as a stalker, so don’t overshare what you have discovered, especially any information that is negative. It’s fine to mention what you see on LinkedIn.

2. Build a “Motivation Map”

Have you ever been amazed, and pleased, that someone remembers some personal detail from a previous conversation you had with them? Wouldn’t you love to be that person?

You can be the person with the “amazing memory” even if you struggle to remember people’s names. The secret is to take and save notes.

I won’t kid you. This is work. Recording details of conversations, while it doesn’t take a huge amount of time, does require some discipline.

But the discipline is in the details. It’s recalling the little details, especially details that reveal motivations, beliefs and values, that lets someone know you care. When people know you care, they are more likely to trust you and to reveal to you just what makes them tick.

How can you do this, as painlessly as possible?
First consider using the tools you already use for communication and relationship management. If you have a Client Relationship Management tool, you can simply start recording notes on conversations for your contacts. I suggest you record notes, even the briefest of notes, immediately after (if not actually during) a conversation. Then, the next time you plan on contacting the person, briefly review your notes and mention something based on the conversation, such as, “I hope you enjoyed going to the lake with your family last weekend!”

You could start a computer file on each of your contacts, building a dossier of sorts. Use an app on your phone. Even a low-tech notebook will do. I’d LOVE to hear what works for other people!

3. Assess early and often

On-boarding an employee, or a client is the most opportune and natural time to ask questions that reveal motivations and personality types. Use a client questionnaire or an employee survey. Consider formal assessments, such as the DISC assessment. But don’t let your assessment be a “one-and-done” assessment. People change. Needs change. Motivations change. How often should you assess? Well, that depends on the situation. One clue that you aren’t doing assessments often enough is your retention rate—are your clients or employees leaving you at a higher rate than the industry standard?

Of course, if you merely assess or survey and then don’t do anything with that information, then you not only have wasted everyone’s time, but you also risk looking like someone who has a checklist mentality, and are just going through the motions.

4. Observe behavior

Although behavior is subject to misinterpretation, it can provide clues to people’s motivations. Generally, people will behave in ways that they think will provide a desired outcome, revealing what is important to them.

A manager berates his direct reports for missing a deadline. What is the motivation for doing so? Fear for his own job? Desire to be in control? A recognizable pattern may develop.

The challenge is that there are often competing outcomes. For example, a working parent’s top priority might be his family. Earning money to provide for that family is a supporting

priority, but typically requires long hours away from the family. The working parent faces a role conflict. How does his behavior reveal motivations? Perhaps the employee copes by texting with his kids, or leaving early for special events. You can observe this and know that family time is a motivator.

5. Make personal gestures

When you show a personal interest in people you show that you care. Stopping at someone’s desk, touching base on the phone, sending a personal email, text or social media message are a few quick ways to show that the person is important to you.

When you are first getting to know an employee or a client, if it is appropriate to your business, taking them out to coffee or lunch, away from work, can be a great opportunity to break the ice and start building a relationship.  Start finding what makes them tick.

You can also keep on the lookout for “thinking of you” opportunities as you come across useful information. Send a link to something you know they would find useful, with a little explanation as to why you thought of them.  Are you speaking to their motivations?

What ways have people connected with you personally that are memorable?

6. Ask questions, but don’t interrogate 

If you want to get people talking, ask them easy, open-ended questions or probing statements (questions or statements that encourage more than a one-word answer) and build on their answers, digging a little deeper.

For example, at a networking event I might say, “Tell me about your business.”

“I’ve been selling vacuum cleaners for 20 years.”

(Are you tempted to say, “that sucks!” I know I would be. Depending on the person, I might just say that, but with a smile, and then quickly follow up with another question, such as: “How did you get started selling vacuum cleaners?”).

Try not to ask questions in rapid-fire, interrogation style. Build rapport by commenting on what they say, especially if you can point out any similarities that you have (the more people see you as like them, the more they will like, trust and open up to you).

7. Listen for understanding

Many people appear to be listening, when in fact they are just waiting for their turn to talk. To uncover someone’s motivations, you need to practice active, reflective listening. To ensure that you understand the other person, try this approach:

  • ask clarifying questions if something is not clear
  • Test for understanding
    • Start out with a lead-in phrase, such as “So, it sounds like . . .” or, “So, what I hear you saying is . . .” A lead-in phrase is a verbal cue to the other person that you are going to reflect back your understanding.
    • Restate (paraphrase, summarize) facts, feelings, opinions, etc.
    • Ask for confirmation (use phrases like, “Is that right?” Or, “Is that what you meant?”)

8. Share—be a little vulnerable

Don’t you love being vulnerable?
It’s hard being vulnerable. Kids are vulnerable. But as we get older we put on the bullet proof vest of invulnerability.

We cinch it tighter for fear if we open up just a little, we might get shot down. An arrow might pierce our heart.

But it is when you can be a little vulnerable with people that you can build trust and connect.

A few years ago, I had coffee with a new acquaintance. As we sat at across the table from each other, we each shared a little about ourselves. He shared how he had been out of work for a while and was getting most of his food at a food shelf. I could see the guarded expression on his face, the invisible wall between us. I knew he wondered if I would judge him . . . If I would think poorly of him for being out of work.

I decided to be a strategically vulnerable.

I shared with him that I knew how he felt, because just 2 years earlier, we had been dealing with a failed business. Just 2 years earlier, not only had I gotten food at a food shelf, I’d gotten my kids Christmas gifts there too. But, it was temporary. Hard, but temporary—as it would be for him, too.  Tough times don’t last.  Tough people do.

The wall came down. His face relaxed. He leaned in. We connected. And, I began to discover what made him tick.

Taking off the bullet proof vest might be hard. It might be scary. It might just change your relationships.

9. Make it safe

If danger alarms are going off, people will revert to survival mode. They will be motivated most by that which ensures survival. Other motivations will be suppressed. Reduce the environment and attitudes that create fear (a very partial list):

  • Public criticism
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Adversarial relationships
  • Disrespectful communication
  • Pointing fingers, but unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes
  • Withholding important information or resources

10. Create events
Special events are an opportunity to get to know people outside of daily work interactions, and they may lead to deeper connections and a greater understanding of motivations. Examples: Corporate retreats, team-building events, client events, volunteering at charity events.  Have you attended events that really helped you get to know your co-workers, employees or clients better?

Understand what makes a person tick, and you will have a more productive work relationship.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus

7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work

7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work

Whether you’re married or not, you can apply some marriage relationship advice to your work relationships.  Like  marriage relationships, work relationships take nurturing to be most satisfying and productive.

My last post, 6 Signs of Bad Conversational Habits that Kill Relationships, was based on Dr. John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  This post will introduce the seven marriage principles in the book and my recasting of the concepts for business relationships.  The next seven posts will go into more depth about the applications of each of the business principles.

Business Principle 1:  Learn What Makes Them Tick

Marriage Principle: Enhance Your Love Maps

Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world. They have a richly detailed love map (that part of your brain where you store information about your partner’s life). Because emotionally intelligent couples know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, and each other’s hopes, they are far better prepared to cope with stressful events and conflict.

Business Principle 2:  Give Honor and Respect

Marriage Principle: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

People who are happily married like each other. Even when the other person is driving them crazy, they still feel that the person is worthy of honor and respect. By simply remembering your spouse’s positive qualities, you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.

Business Principle 3: Create Moments of Connection

Marriage Principle: Turn toward Each Other Instead of Away.

This just means that the couple connects with each other in lots of chit chat and other moments of connection. Partners who characteristically turn toward each other rather than away are putting money in their “emotional bank account,” building up emotional savings that can serve as a cushion when times get rough.

Business Principle 4:  Share Power

Marriage Principle: Let Your Partner Influence You.

This is typically much more of a challenge for men in a marriage. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct. Emotionally intelligent husbands have figured out the one big thing: how to convey honor and respect.

Business Principle 5:  Cope with Problems Strategically

Marriage Principle: Solve Your Solvable Problems.

All marital conflicts fall into one of two categories: Either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual (which means they will be a part of your lives forever, in some form or another). Happy couples learn to keep a perpetual problem in its place and to have a sense of humor about it. You many not love the problem, but you are able to cope with it, to avoid situations that worsen it and to develop strategies to deal with it. You need a willingness to explore the hidden issues that are really causing the gridlock.

Business Principle 6: Move from Gridlock to Dialogue

Marriage Principle: Overcome Gridlock

The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue. You will learn to live with the problem. To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand its cause. Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams (hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity) for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other.

Business Principle 7: Create a rich “Work Culture”

Marriage Principle: Create Shared Meaning

Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together—your own “marriage culture” with symbols, traditions and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you.

Stay tuned for the 7 principles applications.  Next post:   Business Principle 1:  Learn What Makes Them Tick