I am sure you’ve heard the old saying, do as I say, not as I do. And hopefully, you are aware that it describes a very ineffective tactic because people tend to best follow and mirror what they see their leaders do rather than blindly doing what they say to do.
This fact is something that torments parents the world over. It is so easy to fall into the trap of telling kids to do something and then go off and do something counter to it, after which, we expect them to magically disregard our actions and do as we told them like a well-programmed robot.
I remember once while driving my kids to some sporting event, I was a bit lost and searching for the right road to turn on. In the heat of the moment, I said a few choice words. My daughter was keen to let me know that I was being naughty and how I had told her and her brother to never use such bad language. It was a humbling lesson to say the least.
Somehow, my better angels prevailed. I stopped the car, turned around in my seat and told my daughter that she was right and I was wrong. I told her to call me out on this anytime (she’s had to do that a million times since) because I was breaking my own rules.
If I had reacted differently and simply carried on, my kids would have likely disregarded my expectations and begun cursing like a sailor at school and on the playground. I can see shocked, angry parents pulling their kids up and telling them to avoid those bad-mouthed kids. And before you know it, we’re the bad parents with the kids no one wants over for a play date.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t see how this works? Probably not. It makes perfect sense that leaders, in this case parents, have to live up to the expectations they set if they want their followers to live them too. However, every day in our workplaces, leaders demand that their employees treat customers with care, react with urgency, and go to extremes to be helpful, yet treat those same employees in uncivil ways, do not respond with any sense of urgency, and don’t go to extremes to be helpful. Then they wonder why customers complain about rudeness, lack of urgency, and indifference.
You see, just like at home, what happens on the inside of the house directly impacts what happens outside of the house. In our homes, the way parents act towards their kids is directly reflected in how the kids act toward their friends, teachers, etc. In our workplaces, the way we act towards our fellow team members is directly reflected in how we act toward our customers. And the irony is this, while most people seem to understand this in their home-life, they somehow forget it when they step into their work-life.
If we want our customers treated with care, we must treat each other with care, and, to be most effective, it should begin at the top of the organization. When civility and helpfulness cascade from the boardroom to management to frontline employee you stand a much better chance of it reaching customers. However, I do understand that this is in many ways idealistic. I mean, changing hearts and minds in a big organization is like trying to move an ocean liner with your pinky. Why bother?
Well, as hopeless as it may sound, we can all begin making changes and our small changes just might influence others who then influence even more. Do not lose heart because you don’t feel you’re the one to start some big revolution, those fail more times than not anyway. More effective is to make changes in your sphere of influence that spread like a virus.
Here are a few steps you can take to begin creating a more civil and helpful workplace.
- Start interactions with something positive like “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or some other pleasant greeting. Make people feel as welcome in your presence (even if it’s an email or on the phone) as they do in your home.
- When appropriate, ask people how they are doing, how the kids are, how the weekend went, etc. It doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out thing, just some acknowledgement that people have lives. Again, create a welcoming environment.
- Instead of cornering the market on the conversation, encourage people’s input. Ask them what they think. Listen and try not to cut people off with your great idea or comment. Give people room to express themselves.
- Explain your points carefully and clearly. Try to be succinct but comprehensive. Ask yourself if it would make sense to someone who knows very little about the subject. Then ask your listener(s) if you’ve been clear. Don’t ask if they understand, most people will say yes rather than admit they don’t understand. Put the blame for misunderstanding on you and your unclear explanation, then proceed to explain it more clearly.
- Always thank people. People are giving up their time, energy, thoughts, and creativity and they deserve a thank you.
- Respond to communications in a timely way. Even if you don’t have an answer yet or need more time, at minimum, let the other person know you are working on it and give them a reasonable time when they can expect something more firm.
- When people accomplish things, give them a pat on the back. Create a culture where people are recognized and acknowledged for helping the organization succeed, even if it’s only a little thing.
- Be helpful to others. This doesn’t mean helping when your help is not needed, it means helping when you can make a contribution that adds value and/or lessens the load for someone else or will help move something along more efficiently or effectively. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean helping to your own detriment. There is, as is true for most things, a balance.
While these are not the only things you can do, they are a great place to start. You can be the first domino that falls and creates a chain reaction throughout your workplace. It will take time but the rewards are worthwhile. When people want to be there, more gets done, and it gets done at a higher level. In addition, the good feelings spread to your customers. What could be better?
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