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Who Cares? Relationships Do Matter in Business

Who Cares? Relationships Do Matter in Business

As a young officer in the Army I was told many times, “Don’t fraternize with the enlisted men.”  The reason given is that “familiarity breeds contempt” which might have a negative impact on decision making.  Of course that is not true as all married people would hold their spouses and children in contempt.  This goes with a rather popular notion that you can’t be friends with people that report to you.  That is nonsense also. My colleague Judy Agnew and I gave a presentation last month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) titled, The Critical Role of Relationships and Trust In Safety Cultures.  In over 40 years of giving presentations to businesses audiences, this audience gave us the best response ever.  In some part it was probably due to Judy’s presence as she is considered a leader in safety circles.  However we have made joint presentations before where we did not get such a rousing response, so that leads me to think it was what we had to say. Simply stated, what we talked about was the fact that relationships matter, not only in safety, but in every part of a business and in every other part of one’s life.  People who have good relationships are happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t and these benefits don’t stop when you leave for the workplace. There are still companies that through policies, procedures and architecture create a separation between management and other employees as the Army did. When you have to make tough decisions that involve correcting, disciplining and unpleasant assignments, the argument goes that friendships get in the way.

Organizations where this way of managing still exists will not compete well in the future marketplace against organizations where leadership understands that relationships matter if they are to create a workplace that brings out the best in people. Unfortunately there are many managers who think they have good relationships when they don’t.  I have never met an entrepreneur who didn't think that all employees loved them. They are often quite surprised when a survey says they don’t as they see themselves as positive, caring people.  Our clients will tell us that they pay well, have good benefits and praise and reward frequently. What more does it take? The first piece of advice is that positive reinforcement is not a transaction. 

It is not, “Do this; get that” or telling someone that s/he is doing a good job.  Patting someone on the back while telling him or her that s/he is doing a good job assumes that the person receiving such praise cares about what the supervisor or manager thinks. As a woman recently told me, “We had a young supervisor who went to a management meeting and when he returned gathered us all around and said, “They told me in that meeting that if we don’t improve our quality, they are gonna fire me.”  She responded, “We don’t care if they fire you!”  This goes to show that if a person thinks you are a jerk, that you talk negatively about her behind her back and positively to her face, etc. you can bet that the comment is more likely a punisher than a positive reinforcer. In order for praise to be a positive reinforcer, you must first have a positive relationship with the person.  You must know that the person actually cares what you think and knows that you are invested in their success; if not, no words or tangible items including money will have the effect on behavior that you desire. First, invest some time in getting to know another’s wants, desires and dreams. Know their short term and long term goals; know their values and know and figure out what you might be able to do to help the other person accomplish them. It is unfortunate that there are too many employees who think their managers are more interested in what the employees can do to help the managers reach his or her goals than the other way around. The manager whose best reinforcers come from rejoicing in the success of the people who work for or with them is on the track to not only create a successful workplace but to having a solid friendship.

For more on relationships watch our video Relationship Development in Safety.


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Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.

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