relationships

Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Years ago, I was lucky to somehow find and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

The title alone was enough to pull me in. Crucial conversations is one thing, but fierce? That’s next level.

What I thought I was going to find were lessons on how to have different or better conversations. And, while there is some of that in the book, it’s soooo much more than that.

Having read it several times now, it doesn’t even feel adequate to call it by its title. The book is really about equipping you with the mindsets and tools to show up fiercely in your life. More specifically, it equips you with the mindsets and tools to navigate the moments in your life and career that feel scary and high stakes.

The moments that really count.

Fierce is about stepping into these moments, not without fear but with courage and vulnerability. What this book first helped me realize is that to get to what I truly wanted in life, I had to travel through these challenging moments not hide from them.

I learned in this book how to have really meaningful conversations with people that dive toward what really needs to be talked about.

I learned that the conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

The conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

I learned that my perspective on anything is colored by my own experience and what I am surrounded by. This means that someone else with different experiences and context can look at the same thing and see something different.

I learned how to create clarity about decision making in any group I happened to be a part of.

In retrospect, this book set the foundation for me to show up more fiercely and authentically in my relationships with others. The benefits for me over the years have been immeasurable.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s why.

In order for an employee to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel that they are in a healthy, positive relationship with work.  This relationship is impacted by many things in their day-to-day experience of work, but few factors have a bigger impact than their relationship with their manager and coworkers.

When viewed through this lens, our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

Our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

When I started speaking and writing about work as a relationship, I was pretty optimistic (and maybe a little naive) that this insight alone would help us really move the needle on engagement. I thought that if I could just get managers and leaders to see work as a relationship with the employee, then they could start using all of their relationship skills to improve things right away.

After all, by the time you start managing people, you’ve been navigating relationships for a decade or two.  That’s a lot of relationship experience to call upon.

But…

This makes a huge assumption that we are generally good at relationships outside of work. I have come to realize that this just isn’t true.

Our divorce rates aren’t pretty historically. And there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a “loneliness epidemic.” According to one study, two in ten adults in the US and UK “say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.”

These are just two data points suggesting that perhaps we have room to improve in the relationship department.

I’m coming to understand that our quest to solve employee engagement isn’t really about work. It’s about our lack of skill at having great relationships with others.

If I don’t have the tools or ability to foster a great relationship with my significant other or child or closest friend, then how likely is it that I can do it at work with people who I likely don’t know (or honestly care about) at the same level?

This has hit home for me over the past couple of years. A few of my close friends and family had to navigate some really tough circumstances–divorces, loss of a parent, physical illness, and more.

One of the things I realized in reflecting on being with these friends on this journey was how often I’d been with them (individually) and yet either avoided talking about the things that really mattered or shied away from asking a question that felt really important. Instead, we’d drink our beer and talk about work or sports, then go our separate ways.

I wish I had done better.

Even as someone who’s been studying and teaching relationship skills for years, I wasn’t showing up in these moments.

I wasn’t being fierce. I had to re-commit myself to those lessons I’d learned many years ago. I needed to ask the questions that felt a little scary because the conversation that follows are where amazing relationships grow.

I continue to work on it.

The reason I share this is that creating, building, and maintaining the best kind of relationships requires intentional efforts and knowledge of how to do it. When we do it right, the resulting relationships are powerful and fulfilling. It helps us satisfy our almost primal need for belonging and connection with others.

This feels like a tremendous opportunity for those of us who lead teams or are responsible for employee engagement efforts.

  • What if we deeply invested in our own abilities to form and foster great relationships as a way to give that gift to and model it for others?
  • What if we focused our efforts on teaching and coaching people in the skills and mindsets they need for better relationships?
  • What if we cultivated, celebrated, and rewarded relationship skills as our primary focus?

The role of the workplace is changing. It’s consuming a bigger chunk of our lives and identities all the time. Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

When we equip not only managers and leaders, but all employees, with the tools to form and maintain healthier relationships, we not only unlock greater engagement and performance at work, but we also send positive ripples throughout their lives.

  • Better communicators at work are better communicators at home.
  • Learning to trust at work also helps you learn to trust outside of work.
  • Embracing the value of diverse opinions at work may just help you survive and navigate successfully in an increasingly polarized society.
  • Becoming skilled at seeing others fully and expressing authentic appreciation will transform any relationship.

We’ve been scratching at the surface of this work for years without fully committing to it. It’s time for us to go all in.

I’m working on what this looks like from my end. What does it look like for you?

 

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how to improve employee engagement
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

When we realize that our team isn’t engaged, there’s a lot of advice out there for how to improve employee engagement.

More recognition.

More development.

More flexibility.

More autonomy.

More pizza and beer and ping pong.

More, more, more.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that link to employee engagement.

Where should you start with your team?

How to Improve Employee Engagement: Getting Started

When I first had the opportunity to manage people, I remember the weight of feeling like I should always know what to do for them. They hired me to be a manager, so surely that meant I had the answers.

I didn’t.

So I read a lot of management books. I studied other managers to see what they did. I took advantage of every management training opportunity I could find.

And yet, I still wasn’t getting it right. This came to a head one day when one of the people on my team who I trusted the most came into my office, sat down, and said to me, “You are being a real a**hole lately.”

On some level, I’m proud of the fact that she felt like she could be that brutally honest with me. I had done something right. But I soon discovered I was doing a lot more wrong than right.

Don’t Manage by Assumption 

All of the reading, training, and observing I’d done equipped me with lots of ideas on how to best manage my team. But when choosing which one to use, I would lean on my assumptions about what my people needed or wanted.

I was often wrong.

When I was called out by my team member, it jarred me. I was clearly failing as a manager. So I did the only thing that I could think to do. I started asking questions.  I wanted to understand what I was getting wrong. I wanted to understand what my team needed that I wasn’t providing. I wanted to know how to be better.

It worked. I ultimately (it was a process) became a much better manager and leader. And, the thing that made that possible all boiled down to one word.

ASK.

In hindsight, it seems so obvious. But it’s a harder lesson to learn that I would have ever expected.

All You Have to Do Is Ask

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with executive teams as they debated over what they should do to improve employee engagement or performance, observing how comfortable they were making decisions based on their assumptions about employees.

At some point in that conversation, I would interject and say something like, “You know, we don’t have to assume what employees want, we can go ask them. They are literally right over there.”

In the employment relationship, just like any relationship, assumptions are dangerous. They are also unnecessary.

If you want to know how to improve your relationship with your employees or customers (or friends, spouse, or kids), you don’t have to assume.

ASK.

They will tell you.

When they do, listen carefully. Then ask even more questions to understand better.

Take Action

DO SOMETHING to show that you care and that you are really listening–and then take action on it

If you want to improve employee engagement, happiness, performance, or any other factor for your team, ask them for some ideas, pick a few good ones, and make them happen. It’s that simple.

When I led the Best Places to Work team at Quantum Workplace, we were often asked if there was one common practice that we found in every organization with an award-winning culture. And the answer was simple.

Best Places to Work regularly ASK their employees for feedback about their experience, they LISTEN to that feedback to identify where changes were needed, and they TAKE ACTION on those things. This isn’t something they do once in a while. It is part of their DNA and how they manage people.

It truly is that simple. And it all starts with one word.

ASK.

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Related Articles

Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?

Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement

We Need to Stop Saying that 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged

 

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Your Judgment of Others Is NEVER Helpful
Your Judgment of Others Is NEVER Helpful 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

The new year is here.

As I reflect on 2019, I can see that it was a year of contrasts.

For me, it was a pretty amazing year. My wife and kids are healthy and thriving. Angie and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary. My business is growing. Angie’s campaign for mayor of our community is off to a successful start. Things inside our family bubble lead me to feel grateful, lucky, and blessed.

But 2019 was also a year that brought challenges to those who I love and care about deeply. Divorces (so many divorces), addiction, relapses, deaths of parents and children, serious health issues, layoffs—and the list continues.

My friends and family weathered (and are weathering) some pretty serious storms over the past year.

Through it all, one thing became really clear to me: I tried to empathize with them, but the truth is that I haven’t been in their shoes. I don’t know what a divorce with children involved feels like.  I don’t know what it’s like to experience addiction. I’m fortunate to have never lost a parent or child.

I can’t really understand their journey and what it feels like.

Passing Judgment Is Easy—But It Is Ignorant

At times, the behavior of some of these people didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand the choices there were making as they navigated their crises. It was easy to pass judgment on their behavior.

My judgment doesn’t help; it only hurts. And it’s ignorant. I don’t understand what their reality looks like to them. I can’t understand their mindset in a particular moment. Because I haven’t been there.

What I was reminded of this year is that when it comes to our relationships with other human beings, whether they are close relationships or not, there are a few constants.

  1. Everyone is having an experience of life that is different than yours. They may be in trauma. They may be struggling. They may be having a crisis of confidence. They are dealing with things you likely can’t understand if you haven’t experienced them yourself.
  2. Judging others never helps. What you might have done or decided in a similar situation is irrelevant because you cannot understand another person’s reality.
  3. By seeking to understand what others are experiencing, you can grow. When we acknowledge that we can’t fully understand the experience of others, that should lead to curiosity and a desire to learn. In some small way, I’ve learned something about loss and addiction and relationships this year through conversations with my loved ones as I try to understand their experiences. This is an area where there is always room for growth, and I will continue to try to do better.
  4. When in doubt, provide as much love and support as you can. No matter how much I want to solve someone else’s problem or take away their pain, I cannot. And when I try, it often backfires. The best thing I can do for others is to love and support them without judgment, knowing that they may be struggling against something that feels insurmountable. Being there to say, “You’ve got this,” and showing up even when they don’t is what matters.

These are some powerful life lessons for me. While I wish I could have been reminded of these lessons in a way that caused less turmoil for the people in my life, I am grateful for the opportunities to learn.

Work Relationships Matter Too

If we want to have better relationships in 2020, these lessons are a great way to make that happen. And this isn’t just for life outside of work. When we remember that work is a relationship for each employee, these four things take on specific meaning for leaders and managers (and coworkers).

Assumptions and judgment are two of the biggest obstacles to forming great relationships. As a manager, there is so much you don’t know and can’t understand about the people entrusted to your leadership. Instead of making assumptions about people and assuming we have them figured out, adopt a mindset of curiosity, seeking to gain a deeper understanding of your people. You will learn and grow as you become a better manager.

And #4 above is just as true for managers as it is for friends, spouses, or family members; when in doubt, offer love and support. Your people already have plenty of judgment to deal with everywhere else in their lives.

There are fewer more powerful words than this:

“You’ve got this. And I’m here to help.”

 

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Belonging Is an Act of Courage
Belonging Is an Act of Courage 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Where in your life do you feel a real sense of belonging?

That question on the surface feels like a pretty simple question to answer. And it’s easy to assume that almost anyone you ask would have an answer to this question.

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time with this question, and I now realize that it’s far more complicated than I thought.

Belonging is a concept that is increasingly sneaking into our conversations about employee experience and well-being in the workplace. It has its roots in psychology. It’s one of those concepts, like many we use when talking about the human experience, that isn’t particularly well defined or understood yet.

And yet, it’s a concept that has deep emotional significance for most people. We may not be able to describe exactly what it is, but we know the experience when it happens. It’s the kind of experience we want more of, as much as we can get, but it’s often as hard to find as it is to define.

Part of the reason that belonging has such resonance with us is likely because the absence of belonging can be so painful. Let me offer you another question to ponder.

When was the last time you felt excluded, particularly when your desire to belong was strong?

Sadly, it’s far easier to think of answers to this question than the first. I’ve become convinced that we are facing a crisis of belonging, not just at work, but across our society. We are starved for and craving a deeper sense of belonging. And it’s not just one particular group or segment of people who are feeling this.

Two Major Insights Into Belonging

I have facilitated two separate retreats this year where we exploration belonging in an attempt to understand it more fully. I’ve come away from that work with two major insights.

First, we need to dive much deeper into belonging to understand what it is, how it works, and how we can foster it in all areas of our lives.

There has been some work done in this regard, but there’s much left to do. As I’ve explored this with colleagues and friends this year, questions emerge that highlight our need for a deeper understanding of this concept. For example:

  • Can you only belong to another person or group?  Or can you also belong to a place or experience?
  • Can you belong to yourself? If so, what exactly does that mean?
  • What role does belonging to or accepting one’s self play in the ability to belong to others?
  • Are belonging and exclusion opposites?
  • Can belonging exist in a group without some degree of exclusion? In other words, is exclusion a necessary ingredient to belonging?

These are not easy questions when you start putting them into actual application in your life or at work. And yet, they are questions we need to wrestle with until we find answers.

My second insight is that belonging is an act of courage.

While there are a lot of definitions out there for belonging, here’s how I’m defining belonging today based on both my experience and reading: Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance.

Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance. 

The place where I feel the greatest sense of belonging is in my marriage. Angie accepts me fully through our entire range of experiences together—when I’m at my best, and more importantly when I’m at my worst. It’s a rare and unique experience that has been incredibly powerful and important in shaping the quality of my life.

I think this definition also works when we talk about belonging to ourselves. The work of unconditionally accepting who we are is not easy and it’s a lifetime of work. I usually describe this as our journey to authenticity.

The real magic of belonging happens when we both belong to ourselves (i.e., we are fully authentic) and we belong to others simultaneously.

There Is a Catch to Belonging

But here’s the catch: To have the opportunity to experience belonging requires that you reveal yourself fully. It requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage. This is true for both the individual and the group.

Belonging requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage.

As an individual, to be unconditionally accepted as we are requires that we reveal who we are. The danger is that you can’t be fully accepted before you are fully revealed. It requires a leap of faith, an act of courage, before you can receive the reward. And the reward is not guaranteed.

If you are part of a team of mostly Christians, revealing you are Muslim or atheist might be met with acceptance but it also may not. The same could be true for being liberal in a conservative company. Any time, you reveal something about yourself that feels unique or different, there will be a risk. Even when you are pretty certain the group will accept you regardless of these things, it’s still a risk when you fully reveal yourself.

Belonging to yourself truly is perhaps one of the hardest and bravest acts there is because we live in a world that sends you signals all day every day that you are somehow not enough.

And when you unconditionally accept someone else, it also involves risk and vulnerability. What if they don’t accept you back? What if their beliefs are completely different than yours? What if who they are fundamentally conflicts with who you are? These are not easy circumstances to navigate, and they make the act of acceptance far more challenging. Extending belonging to others requires courage.

This insight that belonging is an act of courage helped me understand why the work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important. The irony is that, as in most cases, the courage required is repaid a hundred times over in most cases. But, we’ve got to take that step.

The work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important.

Here are my requests of you:

  • Experiment with revealing more of yourself to others as a way to explore and understand how belonging works.
  • Ask the people in your life about their experiences of belonging and exclusion and how it affected them.
  • Work on ways that you can extend a more unconditional acceptance to those who you live and work with.

We can be the solution to this belonging crisis together. We just have to muster the courage to do it.

 

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being human at work
What Does It Mean to Be “Human” at Work? 
What Does It Mean to Be “Human” at Work?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past few years, it is becoming more common and popular to talk about being human at work. We talk about designing work to work for humans. We invite people to bring their “whole selves” to work. There are even disciplines like wellbeing that are focused on helping people be better and healthier whole humans.

The discussion about making work human sounds great in theory. But I’m not sure we’re always clear on what it means. Sometimes it feels like we invoke “human” as more of a marketing catchphrase then as a true and clear intention.

Today, I wanted to provide some clarity from my perspective about the things we should keep top of mind when we strive to make work a more human experience.

On behalf of humans, here are a few things you should know about us.

What Organizations Should Know About Being Human at Work

We want to succeed. Failing sucks. Falling short of expectations sucks. Being a disappointment to anyone we count on sucks. Given a choice, we will always choose to be successful. If we aren’t getting it done today or if we are consistently falling short of what you expect, it’s not what we’d prefer. We’d rather be succeeding, but there’s probably something in our way, and we need your help to remove it.

We are scared. Life is hard and complicated. We need our job to stay afloat, and we want to be fully committed, but we’ve had bad experiences in the past with incompetent and uncaring bosses. We’ve been mistreated and undervalued. We may even have been laid off or fired. We aren’t sure we can trust you. When we’ve trusted employers in the past, they’ve often let us down.

When we’ve trusted employers in the past, they’ve often let us down.

We are weird. Each one of us is unique and unlike anyone you’ve ever met before. When you expect us to behave and talk and think just like you or everyone else, it hurts us in places you can’t see. We’ve had experiences you can’t imagine. As a result, the world looks very different to each one of us, and that means we have a perspective and ideas you will likely never have.

We are emotional. Like it or not, humans are emotional beings. Deal with it. How we feel determines how we show up each day. You may not want to hear about our feelings, but they are always present. They affect (and power) our work. When things happen at work, we are going to react emotionally. We aren’t robots. Because we care about our work and the people we do it with, when we fail or have conflict, it leaves us feeling kind of gross. If you could acknowledge that and work with us through the emotion, we’d definitely do better work.

We are flawed. As much as we may pretend or you may want us to be perfect, we aren’t. We are messy, complicated, flawed creatures. We will make mistakes, under-communicate, listen poorly, jump to conclusions, and forget things. The more we try to be perfect, the more those flaws show up. So it’s probably best to make it safe to be imperfect and to be forgiving when we mess up. We’ll do the same for you.

We have dreams. Every one of us has something we dream about. It might be a job or career aspirations, but often it’s not. We want to own a home, finish college, go on vacation, buy a motorcycle, or travel to see our grandkids more often. These dreams are what matter to us. If you want to know how to get us fired up about work, learn about our goals and show us how our work is a vehicle to make them happen.

If you want to know how to get us fired up about work, learn about our goals and show us how our work is a vehicle to make them happen.

We want to be loved. Regardless of who we are, every one of us craves the experience of feeling truly cared for and loved by other people. And that’s just as true at work as it is everywhere else in our lives. This drive is so powerful that it makes us do some silly things sometimes. We can’t help it. Show us some love.

We want to know we matter. Perhaps we should realize the impact of our work without being told. Maybe we do, but we still want to know that someone else noticed. We need reminders that who we are and what we do matters to others. That might be inconvenient to you if you are my manager, but if you are honest with yourself, you feel the same way.

The Bottom Line to Being Human at Work

Humans are amazing and complex. If we are to create work experiences where employees can be at their best and fully engaged, you have to make room for all of the messiness and complexity.

This list isn’t comprehensive or complete. But hopefully, it can serve as a way to check in with yourself or your organization about how well you are accommodating and supporting humans in being more…human…at work.

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barriers to employee engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

The longer I am immersed in the work of employee engagement, the clearer it is to me that getting it right as a manager is simple and hard.

That may sound contradictory, but it’s not.

Engaging employees isn’t all that complicated. It starts with forming and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship with each person you manage. Then, ensuring that everything you do protects and builds that relationship and avoids harming it.

That sounds pretty simple, right?

But if you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship with another human being, you know that this can be more challenging than it sounds. Good relationships require that you work at them.

When it comes to doing this work of building relationships with employees, there are two obstacles I hear from managers and leaders most frequently.

The First Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is TIME

Being a manager is one of the most time-crunched jobs in the company. Generally, as a manager, you still have a full plate of your own work to do in addition to managing a team of people. Being a manager also comes with the expectation of attending a slate of meetings that may or may not be of any value.

The problem with being time-constrained is that relationship building requires time. Try to think of one person in your life who you have a great relationship with where you haven’t spent a lot of time together.

You can’t.

Time is the currency of relationships. There is no shortcut or hack.  If you don’t make the time to be with people, you will never build a relationship with them.

This is what makes regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings and check-ins so critically important. By making these part of your schedule and considering the time as critical to doing the role of management, you ensure that each member of your team has at least some dedicated time with you.

Getting the one-on-one in the schedule is just the first step. That time is precious and important, so follow these steps to ensure you make the most of it.

  • Never cancel a one-on-one and only reschedule when absolutely necessary. Treat this time as sacred.
  • Ask questions and listen for most of the meeting. This is the employee’s time with you. Let them tell you what’s most important. In fact, consider starting with the question, “What the most important thing we need to talk about today?” and go from there.
  • Ask the employee for feedback on the meeting and how you could together make it the most valuable use of your time together.

I know you’re busy. Everyone is. But you need to make time for your people, or they will never be fully engaged.

The Second Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is FEAR

This one isn’t talked about as directly and openly as lack of time is, but it’s even more of a challenge. Cultivating relationships with your people can feel awkward and scary, particularly if you are new to it.

It requires that you trust people, maybe more than you are comfortable with. If you’ve been burned in the past, this will be hard. What if you get burned again?

This also requires that you get to know people beyond what they can do for you at work. Who are they as a person? What really matters to them in life? Who are the most important people in their life?

I know, I know. You’ve probably been told in the past that work and life should be kept separate, but is that how you experience work? Do you become a completely different person, disconnected entirely from your life when you go to work? Of course not. And neither do your people.

Getting to know them will help you understand how to help them find more meaning and enjoyment at work. But, here’s the catch. You’ll have to share some about yourself as well. They need to know you as a human being in order to really connect. Somewhere in each of your stories are some commonalities that will bond you together.

When I suggest this to managers, I start to hear the “what if” objections.

  • What if they tell me something I really shouldn’t know?
  • What if we become friends and I have to give them some hard feedback?
  • What if I have to fire them someday?

“What if” questions come from fear. We are afraid because we are uncertain about what we would or should do in those circumstances. We are afraid because we don’t want to change. We are afraid because we don’t want to get hurt.

But what’s the alternative?

Remain distant, be less scared, and let your people feel like nobody really cares that much about them at work? Yes, it will make it easier in that rare situation when you’ve done such a poor job of managing them that you have to suddenly fire them, but in the meantime, they are probably going to perpetually struggle along until they quit to find a manager who cares more.

Lean Into Relationships to Improve Employee Engagement

Treat people the way you’d treat anyone else in your life who you value and care for. That doesn’t mean you abandon accountability or other good management practices. But, it does mean that you handle those things in a way that is consistent with valuing the relationship.

If you want an engaged team, you have to make time and push past the fear. It will be worth it.

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Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work
Assumptions, Projection, and Other Ways to Kill Engagement at Work 1080 722 Jason Lauritsen

A wise friend is fond of saying, “If only people would conform to our expectations of them.”

It’s her way of reminding us (and probably herself) that much of the drama that exists in our lives with other people starts with us. And that if we’d accept people for who they are and where they are instead of projecting on them how we think they “should be,” everyone would be happier.

When Others Don’t Behave the Way You Expect, This Can Kill Employee Engagement

Throughout my career, most of my most frustrating experiences at work were rooted in my frustration that someone, usually my boss, wasn’t behaving in the way I wanted them to.

I’ve had bosses who couldn’t communicate with me in the way I wanted. Others who couldn’t create a vision for me in the way I wanted it. Others who didn’t support me or my development the right way.

In most of these cases, my response to these unmet expectations can be summarized in one word: drama. I got frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry. This, in turn, invited my bosses to be frustrated, irritated, and sometimes angry with me.

The irony in all of this is that in nearly every case, my boss and I actually wanted the same thing. In fact, they usually were trying to help me get what I wanted.  They just couldn’t do it in the specific way I thought they should.

So…drama. What a waste.

Projecting our expectations of others to behave or be only the way we think they should damages a relationship. When relationships suffer at work, our engagement takes a hit.

Making Assumptions Can Kill Employee Engagement

Another enemy of engagement making assumptions. Just last week, I was worrying that something I’d said had offended someone close to me. I stressed about it for a day before finally apologizing.

It turns out, I hadn’t offended this person at all. It was a faulty assumption I’d created in my mind..

We make assumptions all the time, particularly when someone behaves in a way that we didn’t anticipate.

  • Why didn’t she speak up to defend me?
  • Why did they schedule that meeting without including me?
  • Why didn’t they keep me in the loop on that?

When things like this pop up, our default reaction is to assume the worst.

  • She’s trying to distance herself from me.
  • They are trying to undermine me.
  • There must be something shady going on.

Negative assumptions lead to drama in relationships.

How Can We Avoid Our Tendency to Kill Employee Engagement?

Assumptions and projections are something I’ve wrestled without throughout my life. As a result, I notice how frequently these happen at work. It’s so common that we don’t even notice that it is happening a lot of the time.

Solving these issues isn’t easy because it’s so ingrained in our human nature. But there are mindsets and practices I’ve found to be incredibly helpful.

  1. Be clear about what you need and ask for it. In any relationship, when the other person isn’t behaving the way you expect, check in with your own expectations. What is it exactly that you need from this person that you aren’t getting? Maybe you need your spouse to help with the chores without you feeling like you have to prod. Or maybe you need your boss to give you more space to do your job. Regardless of what it is, be crystal clear on what you need, why you need it, and how having it would affect you. Then, share that with the other person. Most of the time, the other person wasn’t clear on your needs and is willing to work with you to find a way to make it happen. It may not be exactly as you imagined, but as long as you get what you need, you’ll be happier.
  2. Assume positive intentions. When someone else behaves in a way that you didn’t expect or doesn’t make sense to you, instead of making an immediate, worst-case assumption, interrupt your thinking. Remind yourself that the other person probably has positive intentions and means no harm. I like to practice this with my kids. When we encounter someone who does something rude (like cutting us off in traffic), instead of my default response, “A-hole!” I say something like, “Wow, they must be in a hurry. I hope everything is okay.”My kids will occasionally make up stories about what might be going on (“they are rushing to the hospital” or “they are late to work”). This simple act of interrupting a negative assumption and replacing it with a positive one is a powerful way to eliminate drama before it starts.
  3. Have the conversation. All too often, we get caught up in this drama vortex. We project our unreasonable expectations on others. They don’t behave as we expect them to, so we attribute some shady intentions to them and soon, it feels like we are at battle.I’ve been through this cycle before, feeling like I was at battle with someone at work, without the other person even knowing it was going on. It all happened in my head. I had transformed this person into my nemesis without ever even having a conversation with them about whatever was bothering me.
    In my experience, whenever I started to feel this cycle coming on, the best way to beat it was to figure out what was bothering me and go talk to that person about it. The conversation can be pretty simple: “Jeff, in the meeting yesterday when you responded to my proposal the way you did, it felt like you hadn’t really considered it and had no plan to do so. I hope that’s not what you intended because my team and I put a lot of work into it. It didn’t feel good to me, so I wanted to just come and talk it through with you.”So much of our workplace angst could be resolved if we’d just have conversations like these instead of harboring our negative assumptions and letting them fester.

Engagement flows when our relationship with work and those who do it is healthy and positive. This isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

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