The Little Way For Better Work Relationships
One of the reasons why people tend to hire people just like themselves is because it’s safe. When someone reminds you of yourself, there is a natural relatability that comes from shared experiences: same hometown, university, or clothing style.
However, few of us are in the position to hire every person in a company. We are more often tossed together with people from very different backgrounds and motivations. And despite our best intentions, we unconsciously bring our own past experiences into the workplace – some would even argue that’s what you’re paid for.
I’ve seen this quickly lead to power grabs and disgruntled team members on projects. There is a reason why Dilbert is one of the most popular American comic strips in history. Assuming you are not a newly hired senior executive, how do you cooperate with others not like yourself? With the least amount of effort…after all, you have a full-time job…
I recommend the little way.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I just came back from a long weekend in Los Angeles. We stayed at a renovated motel called The Sportsmen’s Lodge. You get the idea. It was clean and the price was right. It’s also a favorite among the international less-than-jet set.
Inside, there was a small diner with an adorable 50-something waiter named Mo. He had rimmed glasses and a slick receding hairline that turned into loose curls around his tan face. He knew how to speak a little of every language. He made every traveler feel welcome. And had the tips to prove it.
What if we took a hint from Mo and did little things at work to bridge the office gap? You are probably not friends on facebook with everyone at work. And networking can be a hassle if you are balancing work and family.
Here are some ideas:
Greet strangers in the hallway, elevator, or stairway
A simple “good morning” goes a long way. Challenge yourself to say hello to someone who might appear to be your complete opposite. It’s a thrill to see them respond with a smile. And, if they don’t, you know more than you did before.
Put out a bowl of candy
Halloween is over and all the candy is on sale. Buy some and set them on your desk in a mug or bowl. Word will get around fast and you will find people stopping by and saying hello.
Open the door for the people walking behind you
Especially during the morning rush hour, if you have the time, people will notice this move and appreciate you more than you know.
Hold the elevator door open
In the same vein as the above, if you have the time, do it. I was amazed at how many people would jump in the elevator, look at their smartphones, and literally try to avoid eye contact with someone running down the hall screaming “Hold the elevator!” C’mon. Everybody has a place to be.
Offer to help someone carry a bag
People carry a lot physically (and emotionally) to work: gym bag, work shoes, lunch, etc. If you see someone needs a hand, offer to help and introduce yourself. It may just be the warm interaction you need for some project in the future.
Replace the toilet paper roll if it’s nearly empty
I know a career counselor who advises job seekers to check out the bathrooms for empty toilet paper rolls when they’ve been invited to interview. It says a lot about a company when people pass the buck. And this is an early signal.
Keep a list of your co-worker’s interests
People naturally talk about what they love as a matter of conversation and they will be flattered when you remember. Our group president once gushed about Giada De Laurentiis, so one of us bought him a signed picture of her for the holidays. He didn’t even remember saying it. Most people, even senior executives, assume nobody listens to them.
Email articles related to a person’s interest
Make sure these are not work related! People will appreciate that you see them as a whole person with interests outside of work. Once they know you as friendly, they are also more likely to open your actual work-related emails.
Throw away your trash after a meeting (bonus: throw away somebody else’s)
We live in a disposable and forgetful society. A friend of mind worked at a hedge fund where these powerful men were slobs. He tidied up the room after any meeting he attended and one of the partners noticed. They recognized his humility and positive work ethic, a rare quality in financial services.
Push in your chair before you leave a room
This is a basic courtesy to the people using the room after you. In my last job, I was amazed by the lack of care people had for the common spaces. One person joked that he was keeping the cleaning crew in business. Please don’t be that guy.
You know how to do this.
But I can hear you now – I don’t want to be known for the little things! I know what you mean. Especially as a woman, I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously if they knew me as the “girl who picks up the trash after a meeting.” Here was my math: I would rather pick up the trash than leave the room a mess. People were grateful for the cleanliness and appreciated me as someone who would roll up her sleeves. I didn’t do it after every meeting. I did it when I felt like it. That’s the beauty of the little way.
In a world that has become more obsessed with fame and likes, doing small things and acknowledging people in real life can be very powerful. And the little things add up.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”