Writer’s Note: This piece was originally posted on our blog in November 2019, and was originally written for Forbes.com. And even though many organizations, are still operating primarily remotely, we believe that the behaviors in this piece are universal in their importance. So, don’t get hung up on the idea that we aren’t in the office, so these things don’t matter. They matter just as much in a virtual environment, as they do in person… perhaps they matter even more.
You spend a lot of time with the people you work with, and both in terms of happiness and effectiveness, it’s important to cultivate strong, healthy office relationships. Yet many of us neglect the basic rules of relationships when we step into our professional roles — especially when we are in leadership roles and have a team of people to manage.
Too often, I see people in their professional relationships take others’ work for granted, disregard new ideas or proposals and fail to listen to their colleagues. I see people avoid eye contact, refuse to share credit, time or resources and fail to understand the needs and problems of others.
All these issues have something in common: a lack of communication. Good communicators see the value of dialogue, of empathy and of connection. When we focus on these elements of our relationships, they will immediately improve — and not only will your relationships with your colleagues improve, but your entire team’s performance will improve because people will feel motivated and empowered to do better work.
The specific ways to put this into practice are pretty simple; in fact, they might sound something like what you (or your child) learned in kindergarten.
- Say thanks.
- Respect others’ opinions.
- Make eye contact.
Let’s go into this in a little more detail.
- Say thanks. When people feel like their hard work is recognized and rewarded — even if just with verbal praise — they are more likely to continue to put in effort. Taking the work of others for granted will alienate and potentially drive away talent.
- Most importantly, listen well. It doesn’t mean much to let people talk if you are looking at your email or thinking about what you want to say next. Demonstrate that you are invested in hearing what someone else says by putting down your phone and paying attention. Maybe take notes. Ask a follow-up question. Respond specifically to a detail.
- Respect others’ opinions. Too often, leaders dismiss ideas that don’t originate with themselves, or they react angrily or defensively to any criticism. But a culture of open-mindedness — to initiatives, new ideas or constructive feedback — is a culture of innovation and progress.
- Make eye contact. This is the simplest tool we have to show that we respect the person we are speaking with and that we are engaged with him or her. If making eye contact is a struggle, there are other ways to demonstrate engagement and interest, including some of the ideas mentioned above.
- Share. Give your colleagues their due credit, be generous with your time when you are able, offer your advice and mentoring to cultivate the next generation of talent and give direct, honest, helpful feedback.
- When you see someone struggling, don’t let them fail. In a competitive business environment, we sometimes fall into the trap of viewing everything as a zero-sum game: Your failure is my success. But in reality, that only pulls down the entire team. If someone is generally competent but has hit a particularly tough challenge, find a way to help them succeed. And if a mistake is made or failure happens, find a way to turn it into a learning experience and move on.
Every one of these skills depends on a willingness to communicate clearly, respectfully and purposefully. When we do that, our collegial bonds grow stronger. Morale can be an amorphous value, but it’s not hard to see that employees who feel respected and valued will work harder and feel greater loyalty to their team and their company. And that makes for not only a happier workplace but a more productive one, too.
We believe that great communication skills change the world. We transform people and organizations of all sizes with simple, repeatable techniques, through an integrated platform of corporate training, coaching, and asynchronous learning.
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