7 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Work with You

easy“It all depends on who you’re working with.”

That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent. It all depends on who you’re working with.

In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.

Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.

Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:

1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.

2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.

4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.

5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.

6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!

7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.

No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.

Posted in Attitude, Communication, Conflict, Dependability, Honesty, Leadership, Management, Relationships, Sharing Information, Success, Trust | 8 Comments

8 Essentials of an Effective Apology

I'm Sorry HandsI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 25 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 25 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Posted in Apology, Emotions, Honesty, Leadership, Listening, Repairing Trust, Trust, Trust Boosters | 23 Comments

Moment of Trust – How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust, Not Destroys It

feedback2Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.      ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts and details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

It’s your moment of trust. Seize it!

Posted in Challenging Conversations, Communication, Conflict, Defining Moments, Feedback, Leadership, Management, Performance Management, Trust | 7 Comments

Are You Leading or Wandering? 3 Tips to Keep Your Leadership on Course

cowles-mountain3“It’s too overwhelming to look up the mountain and see how far we have to go” my wife said, as we were enjoying a Valentine’s Day hike this past Friday. “I’m just going to focus on the next step in front of me.”

She continued to lead the way up the hillside when about five minutes later she exclaimed, “Uh, oh. Where did the trail go?” Because she had been looking down at her feet, glancing ahead just one or two steps, she had missed a small directional sign indicating the trail turned to the left. She had started down a path that would have taken us off course. Fortunately we caught our mistake quickly and got back on the proper trail.

It’s easy to miss the directional signs along our leadership journey. We think we’re leading our team down the right trail, only to look up one day to find ourselves wandering aimlessly down the wrong path with no one following behind.

Here’s three tips to keep your leadership on course:

1. Know your destination – This tip seems like a no-brainer, but many leaders neglect to formulate a clear vision of where they want to go, either individually or with their teams. To keep your leadership journey on course, develop goals to guide your efforts. Personally, I like to have 3-5 key priorities for my team each year along with a “theme” or rallying call to focus our efforts. On a personal level, it’s critical to have a clearly defined leadership point of view (LPOV). Your LPOV describes who you are as a leader, identifies the key values that drive your decisions, and explains your beliefs about motivating and leading others.

2. Map your journey – Once you know your destination, you need to map your journey to get there. If we were taking a long car trip in the old days (like 15 years ago), we would have to pull out a map, examine the various roads, use a ruler to measure the distance and calculate our travel time before we even hit the road! Nowadays, our GPS or travel apps do all the work for us. Unfortunately, mapping our leadership journey is more like the old days; it takes work. Create a plan, schedule milestones, have quarterly review meetings…whatever it takes to keep you on track, do it. You don’t want to miss the directional signs along the way.

3. Make course corrections – There are few guarantees in life, but here’s one: change. The question is not if you’ll need to change, but when. You’re going to have to make course corrections to keep your leadership journey on course, and one of the best ways is to plan for it. Build in regular occurrences to review your leadership goals and make adjustments as needed.

Focusing only on the steps ahead, as my wife and I did while hiking, is an effective strategy for breaking down a large goal into smaller ones, and it keeps you from getting overwhelmed by the immensity of your task. However, if you don’t periodically look up from your journey to assess where you are in relation to your final destination, you run the risk of wandering off course.

Posted in Goal Setting, Leadership, Purpose | 8 Comments

Do You Have These 4 Requirements for BOLD Leadership?

Rock ClimberWhen you think of bold leadership, what comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, the idea of bold leadership conjures up images of big, charismatic, larger than life personalities. Most of us think of bold leaders as being driven, visionary, and having a take-no-prisoners approach to accomplishing their goals. In the world of sports we think of bold players being the ones who want the ball when the game is on the line. They want to take the last second shot that will win or lose the game. In business, it’s the leaders who are willing to make the multi-million dollar decisions that will propel their organizations forward or put people out of jobs.

If bold leadership is limited to the popular definition I just described, then you and I don’t have much of a chance to be bold, do we? I mean, face it, most of us won’t ever be in those types of situations. We’re just average Joes trying to make a living, doing our jobs the best we can, and if we’re lucky, making a small, positive difference in the world in the process. Bold leadership is for the chosen few, right? Wrong!

Bold leadership is not what you think. BOLD leadership is:

Building trust – Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship and it’s absolutely critical for successful leadership. Leadership without trust results in fear, withdrawal, compliance, and risk aversion. Leading with trust creates an environment of safety and freedom that result in collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, and innovation. The most successful leaders are trust builders. There’s no two ways about it.

Others focused – Bold leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead. Do you put their interests ahead of your own? Are you striving to help them succeed or are they just pawns in your grand scheme to achieve corporate domination? Bold leaders take the strengths of their team members and blend them together in such a way that the team as a whole is stronger than any one individual. You can’t do that if you’re only focused on yourself.

Leading with humility – Popular culture says humility equates to weakness, the polar opposite of being bold. That’s a bunch of malarkey! Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less. Humility is a quiet confidence in your skills and abilities that allows you to subvert your own ego for the greater good of the team, department, or organization. Arrogant leaders are the ones willing to pursue their own agendas at the expense of everyone else, whereas humble leaders consider the needs of all the stakeholders, recognize the stakes at hand, and make reasoned decisions for the welfare of the group.

Daring to be vulnerable – Bold leaders aren’t afraid to let down their guard a bit and be authentic with those they lead. Employees are yearning for leaders to express genuine care and concern, to acknowledge and appreciate them as individuals with hopes, dreams, and fears, and not treat them as mindless drones, valued only for the work they do on the job. Being vulnerable means sharing information about yourself and the organization and taking an interest in the lives of your people. You don’t have to pour out your life story and be BFFs with every employee, but you do need to open up and help your people see the real you.

Bold leadership isn’t reserved for the chosen few, and it certainly isn’t limited to popular culture’s definition of big, brash, loud leadership. Bold leadership is about the everyday behaviors we use to build trust, focusing on the needs of others, leading with confident humility, and vulnerably engaging with our people in authentic and genuine ways.

Be BOLD!

Posted in Humility, Leadership, Trust, Vulnerability | 11 Comments