By Laura Stack
One of the trickiest parts of leadership is finding a way to strike a balance between your employees as subordinates and your employees as real, live people. Read on for some important points to keep in mind as you work to build relationships with those around you. Not a leader? I hope you’ll read on anyway. Managing relationships with the people you work with (and for) is as important to your everyday productivity as it is to your career.
Teach people how to treat you. You know how you want to be treated. But do you actively take the steps to make sure it happens? Always think about the precedents you are setting as you interact with other people—whether you work with them every day or are meeting them for the first time.
If you let others speak to you disrespectfully or second-guess your decisions, not only are they going to continue that behavior, but it is only going to get worse as time goes on.
This mindset where you actively teach others how to treat you doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but once you make it a habit you may be surprised at how easy it is to do. After all, it is much easier to gently correct one of your employees the first time they take an inappropriate tone with you than it is to break the pattern of behavior once you have let it fester over time. Nip it in the bud and speak up the first time it comes up.
This is an important tool when you are dealing with subordinates, but it is also goes a long way with your other relationships.
You might not be able to be as forceful and direct with others as you can with your employees, but the basic philosophy holds true for your friends, your family members, and even your boss. You are entitled to certain boundaries and expectations, no matter who you are dealing with.
Communicate and connect. Just as it is important to take a stand for how you would like to be treated, it is also important to build relationships in more subtle ways. Obviously you don’t want to treat work like it is a social situation, but to build strong, effective relationships with others, you can’t keep things 100 percent professional all the time. As hard as it may be to imagine, people do have lives outside of work and it’s critical that you recognize that the world does not always revolve around the workday.
But how do you connect without compromising your professionalism? Chances are that you are a busy person who isn’t particularly interested in spending large chunks of your valuable time socializing and chatting about life outside the office.
Nor should you be. But that doesn’t mean that you never take off your “professional” hat and take an interest in those around you. It only takes a few minutes to show that you care about life outside of nine to five.
Is someone requesting vacation time? Ask them where they’re headed and find out about what they like to do for fun. When they get back, make sure to take five minutes to see how the trip went. You don’t need to pry—just show an interest.
Do your employees and coworkers have families? Those families are the number one priorities in their lives. Shouldn’t you know a little bit about them? The more you are able to show you care about the people you work with every day, the better off you’ll be. Who would you rather work for—a real live person with or a stuffy robot in a business suit?
Establish boundaries. On the other hand, you don’t want things to get too personal. Depending on the culture where you work and the individuals that you work with, there may be a tendency for office relationships to stray too far from the professional and too close to the personal.
The bottom line is that you are there to work. You want to get things done and you want those around you to do the same, whether they are your office peers or your direct reports.
People say it all the time: “I’m just trying to get my work done and all Pat wants to do is chat!” That may be true, but nine times out of ten, it takes two to tango when it comes to socializing at work. If you are faced with an office gossip or someone who just can’t seem to help going on and on about their personal lives, you have probably done something to encourage the behavior.
Perhaps, just to be polite, you make it a habit of engaging people like this by simply listening to them talk or even joining in a little yourself. They wouldn’t keep coming back if you weren’t providing some sort of social payback. If you stop showing interest, they will probably find someone else to bother.
If it is one of your Employees who is the office chatterbox, you’ll need to address the issue more directly. It might never have occurred to the person that they are spending an undue amount of time socializing.
Keep them in the loop. One of the biggest sources of workplace anxiety is a lack of information. Especially in times of change, it is often assumed that decisions made at the top are being communicated down through the ranks. As a leader, the best thing that you can do for your people is make sure they have good, accurate information and that they receive it in a timely manner.
Don’t take for granted that you know what is going on and don’t assume that those beneath you have all the facts. The water cooler can breed some wild stories when people aren’t kept informed. Be open and honest. Others will appreciate it.
When it comes right down to it, connecting with others is all about respect. Respect their boundaries, respect their need to know what’s going on, and respect that they are more than employees—they are people.
If you do that, you’ll help create an environment with the type of work-life balance conducive to everyday productivity and overall satisfaction.