“He didn’t even say thank you…”
The indignation that we feel when people don’t mind their Ps and Qs is very telling of how our words and actions (or lack thereof) affect those around us. In a work setting, this often manifests as appreciation or respect. When someone simply acknowledges or thanks you for your work, it goes a long way. Employees who feel appreciated tend to perform better and have a stronger sense of fulfillment in their jobs overall. It only makes sense, then, that support and positive feedback are essential in order for a business to grow, increase productivity, and experience positive change.
While providing a coworker with a quick “Great work” is always a morale boost, a shift in mindset and a restructuring of business practices may be necessary before you can truly enact significant change. Establishing a support culture can increase productivity and create an environment where conflict is replaced with respect.
Here are a few key elements to creating Support Culture:
Acknowledge and address disequilibrium.
The most apparent solution is to simply be aware of any dilemma that arises and consider the implications. Change generally does not occur unless there is a need, a conflict, or some sort of imbalance. When one of these exists, we frequently attempt to squash it quickly to avoid change. However, when conflict is approached with an open mind, the commitment to entertaining varying opinions with respect, and a willingness to discuss, we open the door to possibilities and solutions that we may have otherwise overlooked. In collaborative settings, this encourages communication and compromise as participants feel supported knowing that everyone’s best interest is being considered.
Understand the culture and participants.
What motivates one person will not inspire everyone. We’re all influenced by innumerable factors including upbringing, past experiences, and innate qualities. For example, some people are more left-brain, technical thinkers while others are right-brain, creative types. These people will have different approaches to doing the same task and that’s okay. Respect that everyone learns differently and thrives in varying environments. Honor each individual’s strengths and your team will be stronger for it.
Organizations need that variety, as productivity is a result of support and encouragement combined with the appropriate tools and direction. A great example is how sports coaches often use a mixture of motivational techniques accompanied by hard work to get players to reach their full potential.
This approach only works, however, if you know your audience. Once, during a planning meeting, in which several finance employees were arguing about how to improve EBITA, the creative head (who was incredibly talented and somewhat eccentric) asked, “What’s an EBITA? It sounds like an animal.” The takeaway here is that we must consider our listeners and respect their background and point of view. When we try to solve problems without taking everyone’s perspective into account, we risk misunderstandings. We often get so caught up thinking our own ideas and opinions are the best that we ignore how the perceptions of others’ will alter our effectiveness. When you know where someone is coming from, you better understand how to most appropriately and effectively support them.
Avoid confirmation bias.
Age, status, education, and reputation of the listener and communicator can all dramatically affect our perceptions. When we make assumptions about someone based on these sorts of qualifiers, we either consciously or subconsciously become biased. And it’s nearly impossible to genuinely support someone you’re bias toward.
Whether it’s a positive or negative inference, we jump to conclusions without all of the facts. If you rely on a GPS system that suggests the fastest route, but does not include traffic, accidents, or construction related detours in its directions, your bias is misinformed. Frequently, we underestimate the importance of analytical information or fail to consider things like experience when communicating alternatives among different groups. It’s important to know what your biases are and accept that, while we all have them, it is also our responsibility to challenge the way we’ve been conditioned to think.
Focus on a “WIN-WIN” approach when communicating.
We all know positive feedback is received more favorably and, yet, how often do we revert to criticism, blame, or a “one-upping” mindset when we find ourselves in pressure situations. Support and encouragement are essential to innovation. It’s important to create and maintain a positive atmosphere where people feel safe sharing ideas.
Avoid negative talk and never enter a discussion with the goal of “winning.” It’s not about winning or losing; the purpose of communication is to share ideas and come to an agreement on the best solution—whether that’s through compromise or one party acknowledging that, this time around, perhaps their way isn’t the best approach.
I like to refer to Sheryl Sandberg’s advice about establishing an encouraging environment where people feel confident enough to consider the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” When we feel supported, we’re able to let go of inhibitions. That’s when we’re free enough to experiment and throw out “crazy” ideas without the fear of failing or being ridiculed. Because those “crazy” ideas are usually where innovation is born. Similarly, we should look at mistakes, and even failure, as learning experiences rather than defeats. Frequently, those frustrations also lead to inspiration.
Inclusion always yields a sense of camaraderie and support. When it comes to administration, I highly recommend Tom Peters’ “Management by Walking Around.” It advocates for a more relaxed atmosphere where there is less of a separation between “bosses” and “subordinates.” It suggests that employees are more productive in environments that encourage cooperation over intimidation. Examples of this include informal meetings, going to a coworker’s office instead of demanding they come to yours, open office space with collaborative workspaces, and more face-to-face time.
Organizations and individuals who communicate openly are more successful. Keeping everyone informed inspires a sense of belonging and results in increased productivity. The old mentality of maintaining exclusivity amongst execs is inefficient and only fuels a sense of separation. The more people know, the more effective they can be.
Respectfully manage individuality.
There are always going to be eccentrics who need to be managed differently. Similarly there will be people who need more direction. Learn to appreciate and utilize everyone’s varying skillsets. This may mean giving more freedom to creatives who produce their best work at odd hours or being stricter with employees who thrive under pressure and deadlines. You will also need to address issues of under performance. However, the main point to remember here is to approach all situations with a sense of empathy and respect. When you approach people with a desire and intent to help, they’re much more inclined to be receptive to feedback and help your business increase productivity.
Mind Your Ps and Qs.
This is the most obvious and yet, too frequently, forgotten. The easiest way to show support and appreciation is through simple words of acknowledgement like “please,” “thank you,” and “nice job.” Remembering and using people’s names or referencing a detail you discussed in a previous conversation goes a long way. Letting people know they are seen and being heard is one of the highest forms of respect. We all know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of that.
Establishing a strong sense of respect between customers, suppliers, and coworkers is a critical component of success. And while it takes constant effort, it is relatively inexpensive. A great starting point is to simply check in with yourself and ask if you’re making a consistent effort to see things from others’ point of view and understand where they are coming from. How much more efficient and compassionate would we be if we applied this mentality to all aspects of our lives?
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