As the proud dad of a 17-year-old daughter, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get some face time with her. Between swim team, her job, church, the friends, the boyfriend … there is a lot vying for her attention. Imagine then she comes home, doesn’t say a word, grabs some food from the table, heads up to her room and closes the door. Here, but not present. Thankfully, I have worked diligently at participating in my daughter’s life rather than just watching her grow up, so I am humbled to say that we have a great relationship and this sort of thing doesn’t happen.
But how often are we guilty of falling into the same trap with our work family? In the meeting but not really there. Hearing all the noise but not truly listening. Involved but not engaged. I get it, believe me I do. There are hundreds of emails to answer, estimates to be written, calls to be returned — the list is unending and unrelenting. If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves just going through the motions, punching the clock, being a bystander to the good stuff.
To get a little more out of work and allow the people around us the chance experience the real us, here are a few ideas that I have found helpful.
Early in my career I was convinced that I had reached the pinnacle of workplace achievements — I got an office! A real live office with a huge desk, a door that opened and closed and a brand-new PC with one of those fancy 17-inch monitors. I immediately took that monitor, placed it proudly on the front of my desk and got to work. At first I thought it was great. I could talk with people sitting in the chair on the other side of the desk and still finish up the email I had been working on before they came in. Brilliant! It didn’t take long, though, before I began to notice that I was getting less and less out of these desk-side chats, and people didn’t seem to enjoy meeting with me as often or telling me what was really going on.
It turns out that I cannot truly multitask. I was either giving my attention to the person in my office or to whatever was on my screen, but it couldn’t be both. The reactions of the people were telling me that the screen was winning, so I decided to make a change.
I moved that monitor behind me, and I gave people my undivided attention when they took the time to come into my office. Giving those around me the time they deserved led to improved communications and more direct actions. Creating a space that was conducive to true conversation led to shared expectations and better results.
Don’t let an unfinished email or your plans for the weekend cause you to be physically with someone but not truly present. Do the required work ahead of time so you are prepared to be in the moment. On a jobsite, in a meeting or simply walking into the office — mentally prepare and avoid any distractions.
I recently read an article describing how the U.S. Secret Service conducts counterfeit currency training with a new agent. They spend most of the time interacting with real currency, becoming an expert in what is genuine, so that when they see something fake, they can immediately detect it.
The people we work with may not have had formal training, but they have spent years learning how to do the same — becoming experts at what the real thing looks like so they know when someone is not being real with them. Whether we are talking with the boss, our coworkers or our customers we must authentically show up to each and every conversation. This means being truthful in who we are and what we are going through. I am not saying that we need to share every detail of our personal or professional lives with those we work around, but I would challenge the old “never let them see you sweat” attitude that so many of us grew up with. How different would it be if we let the people around us know when we were having a rough day and then taught them by example how to work through it? Showing up with who we really are allows people to support us when times are hard and celebrate with us when times are good.
Admittedly, it can be a risk to open up and be real with our coworkers, but in my experience, allowing others to learn a little about who I am, what drives me and what is currently happening in my world has led to deeper relationships. And these more-meaningful relationships have led to more-powerful conversations that get to heart of the matter quicker and ultimately drive better results in the business.
I love music. Even more, I love things that make my music sound really good. (My wife might even tell you that it borders on obsession.) A few years back, I walked into my favorite hi-fi store and began looking at some speakers I’d had my eyes on for a while. A couple of minutes later I was approached by a salesperson who, almost without thought, launched into the pitch he had rehearsed so many times in his head. Ohms and hertz and watts, oh my! He never asked about my current setup, how the speakers would fit in with what I had already built, or what type of music I enjoy. I had started walking away when the manager noticed our one-sided conversation, stepped in to ask some questions and eventually salvaged the sale.
Are we guilty of doing the same to those working alongside us? At times I have found myself talking with someone and being so focused on what I was going to say next that I stopped listening to what they were saying. I was listening for response as opposed to listening to learn. In my current role as an advisor, I have found that I need to watch for this behavior daily, being sure I am less concerned about where I want to take the conversation next and more about where we are currently.
Listening well is a practice that can be difficult to master. It requires intentional focus. During the numerous conversations we find ourselves drawn into every day, ask questions, listen and then ask more questions. Take the time to learn what is really being said.
We spend so many of our waking hours around those we work with, but how many of us take the time to really get to know them? What is her story? Where does he come from? What are they passionate about? I understand that gaining this knowledge takes time — time it often feels like we don’t have. I am firm believer, however, that results come through relationships.
If we use sports as an analogy, we can look to the NFL record of 114 touchdown passes that Peyton Manning threw to Marvin Harrison during their time together in Indianapolis. It is well documented that these two athletes from different backgrounds knew and supported each other off the field to build the trust and chemistry we witnessed on the field. Had they not put in the time and work required to know what made the other tick, I doubt that the on-field results would have been so prolific.
If we are looking to develop high-functioning teams inside our organization, we must make the time to truly know those around us. Go beyond the casual hallway conversation about the weekend or the weather. Reach further, know names, determine motivation. Our investment now in the little things will pay off later in the big things. People who feel seen, heard and known will do more for our teams naturally than we could ever hope to legislate through processes and procedures.
A past experience of mine made it abundantly clear that the old tried-and-true method for pulling building permits was no longer working. The process was taking too long, our customers and employees were getting frustrated, and we had begun to lose jobs. The team came together and held a highly productive and engaged meeting. We expressed the issue concisely, planned thoughtfully and walked out with a clearly defined action plan. In full confidence I committed to finish the work and get our new process in writing before the next meeting … and I completely blew it. I didn’t get it done! You can guess what happened to the team’s energy and momentum. My failure to follow through had totally derailed all we had built together in the first meeting, and I had to work twice as hard to rebuild the trust the team had in me to honor my commitments.
The lack of doing what we say we are going to do can have longstanding effects on the results a team can achieve. If the boss is involved, it could mean our job. More importantly, if we are the boss, what have we shown our team about the importance of the task at hand? Our actions have communicated clearer than any words ever could as to where our priorities are. We are either guilty of taking on more than we should or of not managing our priorities well enough to allow us the time to complete what we started. Our team must be able to trust that we will make good on our word. Future results depend on that trust.
Every one of us has a unique path we are walking, in both work and in life. A few simple changes in the way we interact with those walking around us can move us from simply walking near others to purposefully walking with them. Just think how much better and more enjoyable our path will be if we can be present, be real, listen well, care personally and follow through. If we invite others through our intentional actions to walk the path with us for a while, work can become a more enjoyable experience for all of us and we can more easily achieve our desired results.
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