relationships

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?
How Do You Repair Your Relationships? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Among all the skills that are important to building great relationships, one of the most important is repair.

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never thought of repair as a relationship skill. I don’t know that I ever had until I started doing research into how great relationships work.

Repair is what we do when we have a fracture in our relationship in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a full-on break. I’ll give you a few examples.

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

When my oldest son Dylan was in high school, he (like most teens not excluding myself at that age) had developed quite the capacity for doing dumb things. Thankfully, he didn’t do any colossally dumb things. His specialty was the frequency of small ones.

This led to an expectation on my part. If something happened that could even possibly be linked back to one of his bad or thoughtless decisions, I assumed he was to blame and would often react accordingly.

I remember clearly one day when I made one of these assumptions. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember going off the handle, accusing my son of being responsible and doling out some immediate consequences. He stormed out of the room and the moment ended.

Shortly afterward, I discovered that he hadn’t had anything to do with this particular incident. He was innocent. My reaction was based on his track record, not what actually happened. I could probably have justified my reaction by telling myself that I wouldn’t have reacted that way if not for all the other stuff he’d done. Thankfully, that’s not what I did. Instead, I apologized. I told him that I was sorry and that I had been unfair. I told him he deserved better than that and that I’d do better in the future.

He accepted my apology and the fracture I’d caused in our relationship and his trust in me was repaired.

I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I’d overreacted with him. It wasn’t. But each time it happened, I went straight to him with an apology.

Over time, he actually learned to do the same thing. When we had to enforce boundaries or tell him no on occasion, he was prone to overreaction. To his credit, once he calmed down, he’d come find me and/or his mother and apologize for how he reacted.

This ritual of repair was really important to us surviving high school together while maintaining a positive and supportive relationship. I shudder to think what our relationship might have looked like had we not been committed to this.

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

When we have arguments, which thankfully don’t happen often, it feels awful for both of us.

What we discovered over the years was that regardless of how much we disagree or how frustrated we were in the moment, there was only one right next step to take. A hug and an “I’m sorry.”

Before you go all “why are you always saying you are sorry?” on me, pump the brakes. In both of these cases, an apology is necessary.

Regardless of the argument we are having. Regardless of whether or not I am right (which my wife will tell you is very rare). And regardless of how justified I feel about my position on whatever the issue, I am sorry that I’ve made the person I love most in the world feel bad or hurt.

I’m also sorry that I wasn’t somehow able to approach the issue in a way that avoided the argument.

And I’m sorry that our relationship fractured in even a tiny, temporary way.

When we hug and say we are sorry, all of the tension and anger and frustration evaporates. It resets and grounds us in the strength of our bond. From there, we usually find it pretty easy to resolve our difference.

Another ritual we have is checking in with each other in a formal way. Since we are both committed to keeping our relationship in a good place, it only makes sense to sit down on occasion and really talk to one another about the relationship. This shared commitment and investment of time ensures that whenever something happens that doesn’t feel right to the other person, we can talk it through and address it.

The more I began to understand and recognize the skills of relationship repair, the more I realized how vital they are to sustaining any relationship over time.

I also began to realize how much of a gap this is for relationships at work.

When I reflect back on my own work experience, the consequence of the absence of repair is so clear. I could share with you multiple stories of relationships with bossed and peers that may have started positive or neutral but slowly degraded over time.

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

A snide comment in a meeting plus a short and seemingly critical email compounded by a perceived lack of support piling up over time. One tiny fracture after another going unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unrepaired.

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

It’s all so unnecessary. If only we learned how to repair our relationships.

Granted, both parties need to be committed to the relationship in the first place. I think in most cases, people would rather be in positive relationships with their manager and coworkers than the alternative.

When we don’t practice repair at work, our relationships at and with work die the death of a thousand paper cuts. It’s slow and painful, and such a waste.

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

What does repair look like at work? Below are a few skills and approaches you can and should practice if you want to improve your work relationships.

  1. Commit yourself to having better relationships. To have the kind of relationships at work that make work more fulfilling and rewarding, you have to fully commit yourself to it. This means investing time with people. It also means being willing to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient things necessarily to repair relationships when they go off course.
  2. Apologize when you do damage. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or offend them. Say you are sorry and mean it, even when it wasn’t your intention to cause any harm in the first place. Beware that your ego will tell you that you don’t need to apologize because you didn’t do anything wrong and you certainly didn’t intend any damage. But if you care about relationships, do it anyway.
  3. Have the conversation. When someone does something that bothers or offends you, go talk to that person. I’ve had several people confront me at work about things I’ve said in a meeting or over email. In most cases, the way they took my comments was not what I intended, so I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify. In a few cases, they had taken it exactly as I had intended, and it triggered a conversation that allowed us to clear the air and make some amends to move forward. By taking on these conversations, we head off lingering resentment and the lasting damage to a relationship that can occur.
  4. Check in with the people who matter. This is among the many reasons that regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are so important. These conversations provide opportunities for repair.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, managers should do two things when they check in with employees. First, ask for feedback. A question like, “What can I do to be a better manager for you?” invites the kind of feedback that will help identify where fractures in the relationship may have occurred. Second, provide feedback when an employee does something to fracture the relationship. One of my favorite bosses once had to do this for me. I had publicly criticized one of her decisions in a meeting with my peers, and it had gotten back to her. She confronted me about it and explained that if we were to have a positive working relationship, we need to disagree privately but support each other publicly. It was a great learning experience for me.

The quality of our relationships drives the quality of our lives. If you want to be happier and more fulfilled at work and home, be committed not only to having relationships but to ensuring that you do the work to repair and sustain those relationships you value.

 

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Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 150 150 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: The One Word to Remember
How to Improve Employee Engagement: The One Word to Remember 150 150 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 150 150 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 150 150 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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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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The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement 150 150 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 150 150 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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Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife)
Words of Gratitude #2: Start With the Most Important (A Love Letter to My Wife) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


When I reflect on what I am grateful for, the first thing that comes to mind every time is my wife, Angie. Most of you know that she’s not just my wife and the mother of my children; she’s also my best friend AND my business partner. So, as I embark on this gratitude blog series, it seemed right to start with the most important person first.

Angie and I have a lot of dynamics to juggle in our life. Our kids are increasingly busy, our schedules are becoming more chaotic, the business continues to grow, and somehow we’re making it all work together.

As I have done research over the past few years on what makes human relationships work, it reinforced how lucky I am to have a partner in life like Ang. If I were to list all of the reasons why I am grateful for her, this blog post would be as long as a novel. So, I’ll just hit the high points today.

My Inspiration

I’m grateful that I am married to someone who inspires me. I’ve had a front-row seat to watch Angie emerge as a community leader and advocate of victims of abuse. She’s committed to making the world a better place and to use her past experiences to bring strength, courage, and hope to those who need it. I’m humbled by her commitment to this quest and it motivates me to be a better person.

I’m grateful to have a partner in life who accepts me as I am. No matter how weird or annoying or exhausting I may be sometimes, she has never made me feel as though I needed to change. For better or worse, she loves this weird combination of things that is uniquely me.

At the same time, I’m grateful to travel this journey with someone who continually helps me grow. Angie has a way of challenging me and pushing back that challenges me to reconsider or reflect without feeling defensive. I’ve learned so much from her and I know there is still so much yet for me to learn.

There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you….

I’m grateful that she believes in me, often more than I even believe in myself. Long before we were business partners officially, she was all in on my potential. Even when I struggled and failed, she never wavered. Even when we burned through all of our retirement savings to stay afloat while I floundered in a past business venture, she never wavered. There are very few things in life more powerful than to have someone who believes in you this way. It is a priceless gift and the only way I can possibly try to repay her is by believing in her the same way.

I am so lucky.

Finally, I’m grateful for everything she does for our family. She is the CEO, CFO, and COO of the Lauritsen household and that is a big job by itself. Since my job requires quite a lot of travel, she’s often left to man the ship without any backup. And she does this while also serving our community as an elected official and helping run a growing business. It’s a superhuman accomplishment each week to make this happen. And I am profoundly thankful for the immense work she does. I am so lucky.

Ang, there are no words big enough to express my gratitude to you or for you. I am amazed by you, inspired by you, and better because of you each day. I love you beyond measure. I appreciate you. And I can’t wait to travel the next leg of this journey of life with you.

4x4 performance management process
4×4 Performance Management
4×4 Performance Management 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

One of the things I am most proud of from my corporate HR tour of duty happened during my last stop as an HR executive about six years ago.

Before it was trendy to do so, we lead a process to kill the traditional annual performance management appraisal. I won’t spend time here explaining why we did it as I think it’s become pretty common knowledge that annual appraisals are fatally flawed.

The process we used to make the decision to kill the appraisal and what to replace it with involved stakeholders from across the organization. They concluded that the annual appraisal process was ineffective and painful.

However, it wasn’t because managers and employees lack a desire to have conversations about performance. It was a broken process.

So, we helped them arrive at a better process.

A Better Way Forward

What we developed was called the 4×4.

At its most basic, the 4×4 boils down to a conversation between employee and manager that happens four times a year and centers on four questions.

Every time I mention this process when I speak, there are always one or two people who approach me afterward to ask about this process. So, I thought perhaps it was time to outline the process and the design principles in a post.

4×4 Purpose and Intent

The idea of the 4×4 was to create a simple process structured around a few questions that would promote productive conversation between an employee and their manager about performance. These conversations would happen at least four times per year. We wanted the process to feel meaningful and engaging for both the manager and the employee. And, we wanted the employee to feel a strong sense of ownership for the process.

The 4×4 Process

While the four questions are what most people first ask about (I’ll get to that in a minute), the design of the process is equally important.

  1. The employee schedules a meeting with their manager for their 4×4 conversation. Note that it is the employee who schedules the meeting. This creates accountability on the employee to ensure they are having this conversation. But, that doesn’t mean that the manager shouldn’t also be held accountable for the meetings taking place.  If your employees aren’t requesting the meeting, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed because they should want to have this conversation.
  2. Employee and manager both prepare independently by answering the four questions (details coming below). Ideally, the manager and employee share their notes in advance of their conversation.  This allows the conversation to feel less like an update meeting and more like a conversation focused on what is most important.
  3. Meet to discuss the questions, calibrate expectations and make decisions.  The design of the four questions was to focus the conversation on elements critical to performance.  As issues are identified, they are discussed and agreements/decisions can be made.
  4. Employee documents the key discussion points and decisions made from the conversation and shares with the manager.  Again, this puts the employee in a position of ownership and accountability to ensure value comes from the conversation.  Plus, committing information to writing creates a level of clarity that is too often lacking in performance management.
  5. Manager reviews the employee’s notes to ensure agreement and alignment.  This is one of the most important steps in the process. If the employee’s documentation does not reflect the conversation accurately (for example, he misunderstood some feedback), that’s a communication failure that the manager can address immediately. This loop in the process also provides a manager with real-time feedback to fuel their own development of critical management skills.
  6. Employee finalizes or closes the cycle. The employee gets the final word to reinforce that feeling of ownership of the process.

The Four Questions

The goal of these questions is to focus the conversation on the key elements of performance management: clarity of expectations, goals, feedback, support, and resources.

  1. What are your most significant accomplishments since we last met?  This question creates accountability for the employee to articulate progress and impact. This allows the employee to highlight things they are most proud of and own areas where they have been less successful. The manager can provide praise, appreciation, and constructive feedback here. It also gives managers a signal of where they should be providing more recognition based on what the employee is most proud of.
  2. What are the most important things you will focus on before we meet next?  This question is about alignment.  It prompts a discussion about goals and expectations. It allows the manager to see what the employee believes is most critical and where they are planning to focus their energy. This enables the manager to ensure the focus is in the right places.
  3. What obstacles are you encountering right now? This is an opportunity for the employee to identify any challenges they are facing. Maybe they are struggling with a colleague or they are lacking a tool they need to do their job effectively. Either way, it signals the manager where coaching might be needed or support is required. On the manager’s side, this is an opportunity to share observations and offer suggestions for how the employee could have more impact.
  4. What can I do better or differently as your manager to support you? This creates a regular feedback loop for the employee to help the manager get more in tune with their individual needs and style. As a manager, if you remain open to this feedback, it provides the fuel and reinforcement needed to continually improve your skills and effectiveness.

Role of Technology in Performance Management

While this process can be executed using email and word docs, there are numerous tools available that can automate this process (or a version of it). The advantages of using a performance management platform to automate are many.

For one, you can use the system to trigger conversation cycles four times a year. This means the employee gets a notification reminding them it’s time to start the process and providing them a link to do so.

Also, when you use a system, all of the notes that the employees and managers entered are stored in the same place and create a narrative of performance over time. This narrative is visible to upline leaders and HR.

Systems also make the sharing and documentation steps in the process much simpler and create a single place where the “official” conversation notes live.

While there are many advantages to using technology to automate this process, don’t stop if you can’t get the funding for it. The goal is the conversation, not the technology. So, use the tools you have to make those conversations happen.

Other Performance Management Considerations

  • Frequency: In my opinion, four conversations a year is not nearly enough. However, you should always pursue progress over perfection. If you struggle today to get managers to have one performance management meeting a year with each employee (which was the case where we designed the 4×4), then moving to four conversations a year is big progress. In my experience, a conversation once per month has worked ideally. But, the frequency should be determined based on your organization’s needs and business.
  • Questions: The questions outlined above are a solid foundation that I think could work in nearly any business context. But, they aren’t magic. Again, you should adjust these items to be culturally relevant to your organization and objectives. You may decide you want to add a question or two. The key is to be clear on the intention of the item (as I have outlined above for each). Over the past year, I’ve found it helpful to add an additional first question, “What is the most important thing we need to discuss?” I find this ensures that we spend ample time on the issues that are deemed most critical.

In the end, the thing to remember is that the goal of the process is to create an engaging conversation between an employee and their manager that has a positive impact on their performance. The rest is just details.

 

 

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