Some time ago, I spoke at and facilitated an Executive Leadership Program for a notable association. The speakers were a who’s who in that industry–successful business people with a solid track record. There were sessions on responding to RFPs, auditing and accounting, business operations, and profitability. At the end of the program, the participants met in groups and identified their top three take-aways from the day, which we recorded. One item rose to the top of the list: Do the right thing and be nice. The group discussed that it was interesting that profitability wasn’t the first item on everyone’s list – indeed, it only came up once. But every group commented on being nice and just caring.
So, what does that look like at work? It all comes down to behavior. If we are being nice and caring, what are we doing? Gleaning from the discussion and from my experience, there are three behaviors that communicate care.
Seek First to Understand. That’s from Stephen Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He teaches that listening is a key skill. To do that, seek first to truly understand the other person’s point of view. Listen…truly listen. What we now know from neuroscience, is that when we listen and validate the other person’s comment or emotional state, it calms them. They feel heard, and that settles the nervous system. It’s not that hard. But, you do have to restrain your impulse to dive in with your point. Listen first. State it back. Hear them. It shows you care about their opinion.
Speak strongly and politely. Somewhere along the way we forgot that being strong and confident are not mutually exclusive with politeness. We can be strong and nice. In fact, some of the strongest people I worked with embodied quiet calmness. Without defensiveness, they could listen, hear, evaluate and come to a reasoned conclusion. I’ve seen caustic situations diffused when a manager lets the negative energy from another slide by and comment with calm understanding. Even performance problems can be addressed with strength, without giving in and while being polite. We forget sometimes that politeness goes a long way.
Be interested in more than just their work. One of the leaders who spoke at the program told the group that every Friday in the middle of the day, he called his staff just to chat. He intentionally did not talk about work but rather used that time to connect on a personal level. Connection was another key theme from the program. For those of us (like me, I confess) who derive pleasure from checking off accomplishments, we can forget the importance of connecting personally. And yet, we feel more committed and motivated when we feel that people at work care about more than work. All it takes is an honest inquiry – How are things with your kids? Which college did your daughter select? What did you think about the game last night?
Yes, profitability is essential but what these future executives learned is that they can get to profitability when their staff understands that they just care. Let’s face it, it’s just not that hard to be nice.
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