Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Work Relationships

Posted: December 15, 2013 in Relationships
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LastDayTogether

a recent photo from the last day of a great team before some moved on to other opportunities

I’ve had the good pleasure of working with many great people through the years. I’ve been on teams that got along well, enjoyed each other, helped each other, and befriended one another outside of work while accomplishing much for the business. Such experiences have fostered long-term relationships that carry on long after we no longer work on the same team. That is not to say that all work relationships have been stellar. As expected, there are some people I haven’t gotten along with for whatever reasons. Fortunately, those are rare exceptions.

As I think about the range of possibilities for work relationships, I see the following primary types in the workplace regularly:

  • True friendship. This is the most satisfying type of relationship for me. It is one that lasts beyond working together. It leads you to help each other, be patient, try to understand, give willingly, share openly, be honest, and to be on the receiving end of those behaviors as well. This kind of relationship doesn’t happen quickly. It doesn’t happen automatically just because you spend a lot of time together. It happens for the same reasons friendships outside of work come to pass – making connections with kindred spirits where something positive clicks between you. Having true friends at work makes collaboration easy, although there is the potential down side of letting personal feelings interfere with making the best business decisions at times. Having colleagues transform into friends makes it more difficult when the work relationship ends, but it makes the time together more enjoyable.
  • Cooperative Professionalism. This is the most frequent type of work relationship in my experience. These are not relationships that are likely to intentionally continue when one leaves the company, but they serve the company well while working together. These range from very infrequent interactions to more frequent, and they seem to be transactional more than relational. Like cogs in a wheel that do their job to keep the corporate machinery moving forward, these relationships serve their purpose for the individuals and the business, and do so in a positive, professional manner. There is no real emotional connection present or necessary in these types of relationships. Accomplishing business objectives and doing so with professional courtesy drive what happens. This is the type of relationship that is most appropriate for managers to have with their subordinates, and what is likeliest between most coworkers. While it’s certainly possible for managers and subordinates to be friends, making that work can be like walking through a minefield.
  • Adversarial. Fortunately, I’ve encountered very few of these types of relationships through 40+ years of work. These are the toxic, frustrating relationships that not only hinder getting work done, but make the process miserable at times along the way. Motivations for someone behaving in this manner are as varied as the individuals involved, but may be due to attempts to climb the corporate ladder, maintain control of some aspect of the business, competing priorities, personality clashes, perceived threats, lack of trust, or hidden motivations we may never understand. There is no good excuse for these kinds of relationships to exist, but we all know that they do.

With so much time spent at work for the majority of adults, it’s important to have good relationships along the way. If you love what you do but dread being with those with whom you must do it, then you’re not likely to hang around for the long term. What we have a right to expect from work relationships at a minimum is cooperative professionalism. We also have a right not to expect openly adversarial relationships. If we are very fortunate, though, we will end up with some genuine, meaningful, true friendships along the way.

AloneA few weeks ago I saw a Facebook post from someone I follow that read: “Whoever apologizes first is bravest. Whoever forgives first is strongest. Whoever forgets first is happiest.” A Web search will reveal other slight variations of the quote. I’m not sure to whom the quote should be attributed, but it’s wise regardless of its origin.

Relationships can be tricky. Obstacles arise and barriers get erected over time that can easily become permanent if we aren’t careful. We can become satisfied with the new normal of broken relationships, allowing them to continue because in one sense that is easier than trying to mend what is broken.

There is a cost that comes with broken relationships, however. The distrust, the ill will, the emotional toll of failing to forgive, and the distraction of living in the past rather than working together for a better future are just some of the costs of failing to be reconciled with others. It’s hard to imagine many (if any) scenarios where the cost is worth it.

I saw the above quote about the same time last month I finished reading again the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. After being sold into slavery by his older brothers, Joseph eventually revealed himself to his surprised and frightened brothers years later when Joseph was the #2 man in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power. The brothers were immediately terrified that Joseph might take revenge for their awful action from years earlier, but instead he forgave them, saw the good that God had worked in the midst of a bad situation, and was reconciled to his brothers.

You and I probably don’t have dramatic stories like Joseph to tell, but chances are good that we have some relationships in need of reconciliation. The damage may be due to the action of the other person. We may be perfectly justified in the eyes of the world for not having anything to do with others who have knowingly wronged or harmed us. The broken relationship may be between you and a (previous) friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, etc. But because continuing to reinforce barriers between yourself and others consumes time and energy best spent on other more positive endeavors, isn’t it better to put an end to such negative chapters and then move forward in a fresh way – if not for the benefit of the other person, at least for your own mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health? Isn’t that the more mature response, even if it requires you to swallow a little pride along the way? It may not be easy to do, but most worthwhile endeavors aren’t easy.

“Whoever apologizes first is bravest. Whoever forgives first is strongest. Whoever forgets first is happiest.”

PieSome of the best days of my life – past and present – are days spent with my parents on their farm in Winchester, Kentucky. We moved there when I was in sixth grade. I live about 90 miles away, so at best I get there once a month to spend a day. It is always a good day when I’m there. I should be there far more often than I am.

I’m writing this at the end of the day September 30th – my dad’s 79th birthday. I wish you could know my dad. He’s a great, great man which is only fitting since he’s been married for 60 years to a wonderful woman, my mom. They are kind, generous, funny, active, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. If you are a guest in their home, you will be treated right. You will definitely be fed until you just have to refuse any more.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day of my vacation there. As expected, the food was plenteous, but I knew that would be the case. I was somewhat prepared by eating light the day before the trip. The first meal came within a couple hours of arriving. Various snacks and bottomless Ale-8s to drink were readily available between meals. Evening saw another full meal with bigger portions than anyone ever really needs.

At the end of the evening meal, Dad cut me a piece of pie. Well, it was more like 2-3 pieces of pie – a Dad-sized portion. When he put it in front of me, I remarked, “That’s crazy!” I won’t forget his response as he walked away: “That’s not crazy. That’s love.” And he’s right.

We all have our ways of showing love for others. One of the precious lessons of life is to be able to recognize such love in whatever form it takes when it comes your way. We are different in how we express our feelings for others. Some are more verbal than others. Some do little acts of kindness. Some do periodic big things for those they love. Many do a combo of all the above. Whatever unique ways your loved ones have of showing love, I hope you recognize it when demonstrated, and I hope you return it in a way they recognize as well.

Some ways of showing love may not make a lot of sense to others, but that’s OK. They only have to make sense to the ones giving and receiving it.

That’s not crazy. That’s love.

WorkIsnotFamilyYou may have heard a business owner or manager at times say something to the effect of “We’re a family here” when referring to the relationships among employees.  I can’t recall the last time I heard it (thankfully), but I know that I have in years past.  I confess, though, that it simply doesn’t ring true in any business I’ve ever been a part of except the one that my wife and I ran out of our home for a number of years.  I recall hearing such comments and thinking to myself, “No, this isn’t family – only family is family,” yet everyone heard the sentiment, smiled or nodded and went on their way, probably thinking like I did that such sentiment was wishful thinking on the part of management.

For several years, my current company used the Gallup Q12 survey to measure employee engagement.  Many employees shook their head unsure what to do with the survey item “I have a best friend at work.”  While many may have been able to answer affirmatively, many others were befuddled by it and felt nothing wrong with truthfully answering negatively to the item.  They didn’t expect to have a best friend at work.

Except for family-owned businesses that really are made up of relatives, let me say clearly that groups of employees in businesses are not family nor should they feel like they ought to be.  Work relationships may well include some very dear people that become friends for life, but most coworkers – especially in a large business – are colleagues with whom you will never communicate again once you leave that place of business.

And that’s OK.

My company has nearly 50,000 employees.  Is that a family?  No.  It’s a workforce.  I do not know and will never know individually most of my fellow employees.  I know well and thoroughly enjoy the friendship of my closest colleagues.  I have many good working relationships across numerous departments and locations, but the only family I have at work is my youngest son, Jason, who happens to also work for the same company.

The word “family” is special.  It is reserved for those few who are united forever with me because we are, indeed, relatives.  As a Christian, I am also comfortable using the term to refer to the larger body of believers in my family of faith with whom I expect to share eternity.  To use the term “family,” however, for environments where the focus is something as mundane as a temporary career which could change by choice or force in a moment is to cheapen the meaning of the term.

This is not to say that work is not important – far from it.  Many of us spend more waking hours at work with our colleagues than we do at home with our real family.  Having good relationships at work helps make the experience more meaningful and fulfilling and should be a goal of every employee.  Frankly, though, I am quite fine with trying to have a well-oiled machine at work made up of professional colleagues who strive together toward the same goals and who show professionalism and emotional maturity along the way.  That is what the business employs us to do – not to be best buds along the way.

Managers and leaders, please think twice the next time you are tempted to say in a talk or email or elsewhere that your business is a family.  The hearers may not openly disagree with you, but they will probably not believe you, either.  Just work on getting everyone moving in the same direction, working toward the same goals, demonstrating the same core values, showing emotional maturity and professionalism in whatever they do, and you will be doing what the business is intended to do.  Leave the term “family” for that one-of-a-kind institution that we come home to after work.

Valary and Me

Valary and Me

I spent a wonderful few hours yesterday with a dear friend from high school, Valary.  Except for a recent class reunion, I don’t recall that we’ve crossed paths geographically since our graduation in 1975.  We’re connected online via Facebook, but with her living in California and me in Kentucky, opportunities to catch up in person just don’t happen.  So when we realized that we would both be visiting our hometown of Winchester, Kentucky at the same time, we carved out time to commandeer a booth at a local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.  Over 2.5 hours later, we thrilled the servers by finally leaving.

We talked about all kinds of things in our time of catching up yesterday, interrupted at least once every 10 minutes by the very… um… persistent servers wanting to check on us.  I could write several posts here from the insights shared in our conversation, but one in particular stands out to me.  In a nutshell, it is this:

We don’t know all the struggles and detailed personal history others experience in their lives – factors that are critical in understanding how people arrive at their current place in life – why they think, feel and act as they do.  Consequently, we often make wrong assumptions about others based on very limited information and understanding.  We see gaps in their story and fill in those gaps with our own wild imagination.  We have fill-in-the-blank relationships, and we fill in those blanks incorrectly way too often.

Instead of creating and acting on our wrong assumptions about others, wouldn’t it be better for us to take the time to hear directly from them so that we can better understand their story?  Don’t just make up something to fill in the blanks of other people’s lives.  Then them fill in those gaps of our understanding.

As Valary and I talked, I learned so much about her and others that shows how little I really knew going into yesterday’s conversation.  I can now appreciate her and those others even more than before because she has filled in some glaring blanks in my awareness.

There is too much misunderstanding and conflict around most us every day, both interpersonally and on a larger scale between groups and nations.  It is a shame that much of the conflict may stem not from the facts of a situation, but from wrong assumptions, suppositions and prejudices that negatively impact our response to others before we even know their true, whole story.

After talking for 2.5 hours to Valary at that restaurant booth, it’s safe to say I know her better than ever, and I appreciate her far more than ever, even though she’s been a friend for decades.  That’s what talking one-on-one with someone can do for us.  We need more of that.

Fill-in-the-blank relationships are dangerous.  We need others – especially the people themselves – to help us fill in those gaps in understanding.

Thank you, Valary, for that important reminder.  Godspeed.