All of us like to receive praise and support–especially in the
workplace. It makes for happiness and work engagement. Its no surprise,
then,that over the past two decades systematic research has found a
significant correlation between social support and workplace
productivity. The implication, of course, is that the more social
support you’re provided by managers and colleagues, the more significant
the job satisfaction and the greater the work engagement.
However, as Shawn Achor has noted, that research is easily misinterpreted. The research on social support has focused on how much social support you receive, not how much social support you provide.
It turns out, that giving feels better, does more for you, and provides
greater returns in the long run, than getting ever does.
Using a research base of 1600 participants, Achor broke the group
into quartiles. He found that the top quartile are 20 times as likely as
the bottom quartile to make up for the work of other employees. He also
found that of the bottom group, 95% of those who provide no support to
others, are not engaged productively in their work. Furthermore, only 7%
of those in the bottom group received a promotion during the past year,
while 40% of those in the other three groups received promotions. Most
significantly, not only were those who supported others more productive,
but they also were more satisfied and happy in their work. In short,
Achor has found that there is a lot of getting in giving.
Achor, a Harvard Divinity grad, has taken his religious teaching
seriously, and found that as in St Francis’ prayer, “it is in giving
that we receive.”
That being the case, what are the best ways for giving? To rephrase,
how do you go about strengthening your workplace relationships? Here are
five important keys to that issue. They’ve been shown to be highly
useful for strengthening relationships at work.
Positive feedback. Of
course, the generic stroke, such as “thank you, good job,” or even
“congratulations,” is important. But most important in giving
positive and negative feedback is an explanation of the “why.” So
detailing why you appreciated the job and explaining what about the
performance was special are very important. Effective positive
feedback reinforces not only the value of the performance, but also
the process or means of achievement. Positive feedback not only raises
morale among your peers, it also helps to insure the type of
support you would like to receive in return.
Dealing with differences, coping with, resolving and mediating
conflict are especially useful skills for giving in today’s
organization. No one wants to be miserable at work, and those who
can intervene to stop the “pain” in a work setting are often looked
up to. Differences often require additional skills in developing
not only your own relationships but also the relationships between
others. These skills can add not only to the productivity and
happiness of an organization, but also to its vitality. Indeed, a
person who is able to give by mediating differences among peers will
often receive by being chosen as the leader of a team.
Talking about talk.
Talking about how you talk to each other, the communication
process itself, is one step removed from the actual communication
event. If you are able to talk to peers about the way in which you
are communicating with one another, not only will you surface
differences before they mature or explode, but you’ll also gain a great
deal of additional, practical information about each other’s
values, goals and attitudes. Acknowledging these similarities and
differences can grease the way you work together and make for an
easier time even over very difficult projects. For example, you
might say to a colleague, “I was thinking about our team meeting
this morning, and I’m wondering if I’m clear about the scope of our
project. Did that make sense to you? I saw you frowning and
thinking about it, I wondered if I wasn’t being clear or if you
disagreed. I’d really like your opinion.” Talking about your talk,
what’s known as meta-communication, is rare in most work settings. But
it can make many “undiscussables” part of the conversation, thus
increasing effectiveness. Although this is new stuff for most, it’s
an exceptionally useful form of giving in today’s diverse
Help manage relationships. As
the workforce adapts to the changing demands of customers,
increasing competition and globalization, diverse teams become
essential. Diversity reflects not only the differences of
background (race, ethnicity, nationality), but also knowledge and
expertise. Diverse teams can be especially challenging early in
their formation. Research, however, finds that the negative effects
usually diminish over time, yielding to positive contributions.
People who have learned the skills of talking about talk are especially
valuable in diverse settings, often making the difference between
success and failure. For some, interpersonal relations within the
organization are of prime importance, whereas to others the task
assumes priority. In spite of the research on satisfaction and
engagement (mentioned above) a significant proportion of workers
keep their important relations outside of the work environment.
Understanding all these differences and helping others to manage
them successfully goes a long way toward strengthening relations
and effectiveness. Mediation skills are valuable in settings even
where conflict is not an issue. The personal satisfaction as a helper
can be very gratifying.
One of the obvious means of giving and strengthening relationship is
offering resources to those when schedules, expertise and head-count
create problems. Although it’s not always possible to make such
offers because of one’s own schedule, many managers and employees
ingratiate themselves to colleagues through these provisions. Our
culture runs on a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours basis.
Paying attention to that model goes a long way toward
strengthening work bonds, which ultimately pays its own dividends.
These keys overlap, yet I’ve separated them for the sake of emphasis.
All, of course, deal with the interpersonal and are a form of
conversational leadership. In the final analysis, the success with which
you manage your interpersonal relationships at work can make the
difference between looking forward to going to work each day or dreading
the next negative interaction with colleagues.