5 Tips for Cultivating Good Work Relationships

telephone1 Painting: Betsy Boyle

1.  Communicate.  This one would seem like a no brainer; but, I’m always amazed at the lack of communication I find in the places I have worked.  Here is an example: Employee A organizes the adult programming for a library.  She has scheduled movies on a certain night of the week for a few years.  She logs onto the calendar to book the community room several months ahead and finds that Employee B, the person who does children’s programming has booked the same night for several months.  Employee A can move the movie night to another night; but, it will require training a generally elderly population into switching nights.  It will also require a rescheduling of personnel.  All of this is fine in the long run; after all, staff must share the facilities.  The problem exists because Employee B didn’t have the courtesy to just call up Employee A and have a discussion about booking the room and there by at least giving Employee A a heads up.  Now there are feelings of irritation and suspicion instead of one of teamwork.  Employee B missed an opportunity to bond with her colleague and build a relationship based on negotiation and support.  Do you think Employee A will jump at the chance to help out Employee B should she need it?  I doubt it.  Pick up the phone or wander down to your colleague’s desk and talk them.

2.  Set up your coworkers to succeed.  What I mean by that is if you are presented with an opportunity to make a situation smoother or give your coworker the information they need to successfully navigate a problem, DO IT!  A good example is when dealing with a customer complaint that needs to be handed off to the next person.  Take a moment, whether by phone or in person, to bring your coworker up to speed in an objective way.  You don’t have to bias your coworker’s opinion of the customer; but, you can give them all the facts and even suggestions for resolution if you have any.  If you need to forward a customer call to another person, take a moment to introduce them to the problem before allowing the call to transfer.  This is a win/win situation because not only are you building a trusting relationship with your colleague, you are also improving customer service.  There is nothing more annoying than calling a customer service line and getting handed off  a million times and having to tell each new person the whole story.

3.  Avoid office gossip.  This is hard.  There is always one person in any workplace that others like to complain about.  Try to avoid this kind of chit chat.  Although it may feeling like a bit of coworker bonding at the moment, it is actually planting the seeds of distrust in everyone involved.  If your coworkers talk about your other coworker behind their back, who’s to say they don’t talk about you when you’re not there?  And there lies the rub.  By not participating in these conversations, you coworkers quickly learn to curb these types of bitch fests while you are around.  They also begin to realize that you are a person that can be trusted to treat others fairly.  This is an excellent role to have in an organization because it puts you in a position of being able to help create a cohesive team and change a distrustful atmosphere.

4. Give when you can.  There are times in every organization when you are less busy than someone else.  If you see your coworker stressed from overwork and you have time, offer to help.  If you have an answer needed to help a customer, offer it.  In my library I’m seen as one of the techie people around here and reference staff have been known to interrupt my offdesk time to get me to help a customer with a computer question.  When I was younger, this would sometimes irritate me because I felt that the other staff should know these things.  But, now that I’m older and just more experienced I realize that we all have our strengths and roles.  Mine is to help people with computer issues that are beyond basic troubleshoots.  I’ve had coworkers whose strengths were in business resources, government documents and geneology and I was happy to pass the customer to them.  That’s teamwork and when the team is working together, the customer always wins.

5. Show respect to others at all times, even when someone drives you crazy.  This can sometimes be hard; but, it is really not negotiable if you want good working relationships with coworkers.  Deliver criticism gently and receive it maturely.  I’ve seen coworkers snap at each other, treat each other rudely and disrespect each other in a whole gamut of ways I had never thought of before.  I’ve had a boss who yelled and kicked file cabinets and liked to make people cry.  I’ve had a boss who never came out of her office even if the library was crazy and we needed her help.  I’ve seen coworkers treat nonprofessional staff as if they were idiots.  All of this behavior leads to a workplace in chaos which is always bad for the customer.  And it may be a cliche; but, seriously, a little respect goes a long way.

This is a good start.  I’m sure there are many other ways to build good rapport with the folks you work with day in and day out.  Some of us spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families.    We should take some care tending to these relationships.

Manners 2.0: Cultivating Common Courtesy in a Digital World

What is it about the embracing of emerging technologies that has allowed people to abandon common courtesies? Last year, I worked in retail and I was astonished at the sheer number of people who thought it was perfectly fine to conduct a retail transaction while talking on the phone. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a younger generation phenomenon, I can tell you that I was equally surprised by the diversity in age of the offending customers. Let me tell you a story of one clueless customer. We had one public restroom. You know where I’m going with this right?

A customer approached me to say that someone had been in the bathroom an unusual amount of time and could I check on her. I had actually walked past the bathroom several minutes prior to this and noticed that someone was in there talking on their phone. I remember thinking: who talks on their phone while they’re in a gross public bathroom?

So, of course, she is still in there talking loud enough for the 5 people waiting for the bathroom to hear her, word for word. If she thought talking in the restroom provided some sort of privacy she was wrong. I knocked loudly on the door. There was a moment of silence and then, “Uh oh, I think people want to get in here.” We all stood there and listened to some mysterious noises and finally the door opened. A woman in her 60s emerged and said, “Sorry,” put the phone to her ear and continued her conversation. The customers started clapping and the incident was over.

Clearly, cell phones, social networking and other web 2.0 tools have changed the way we interact with one another; but, can’t we also carry with us some traditional concepts of courtesy? I think so. I’ve created a very basic list of rules to follow when navigating in the digital world.

Rules of Respect 2.0

1. Set your phone to vibrate when in a public place where there is an expectation of quiet: hospitals, libraries, coffee shops where people are working on laptops are just a few examples. You might also lower the ringer when in any indoor public place. There is a general annoyance when you hear someone’s obnoxiously loud ringtone no matter where you are.

2. Turn your phone off when you are on a date, eating dinner with your family, hanging out with friends, basically when you are engaged with other humans in a business or social arena. If you are waiting for an important call/txt or email or need to be on call, let your companions know that you may need to excuse yourself.

3. If you receive a formal invitation to something like a wedding, rsvp via snail mail. Don’t send a text, email or IM, unless the hosts have indicated that sort of response is acceptable.

4. If you need to speak or listen to another person, remove your headphones/earbuds. Keep the volume of your portable devices low enough that others around you can’t hear them.

5. Txting and surfing during class is rude and although you may be confidant in your multitasking abilities, you are probably not digesting all that the professor says.

This is just a beginning list. I’ll probably add more as this blog goes on.

My friend told me  a digital date from hell story.  She recently went on a first date with a woman and her date checked her Blackberry several times throughout their meal and actually responded to a txt message as they were walking down the sidewalk.  The thing that most struck me about this was that this person is not being fully present in her life. And I surely don’t want to date someone who isn’t even fully present on the first date. You can use this same scale when dealing with the store clerk, the gas station attendant and others you come in contact with. Turn off your devices, acknowledge this other human that is in your life. You can check your texts, talk to your friend, surf the internet in just a moment.