Business is Personal
I’m sure you've heard the expression, "Business is Business," often with another line appended, "Nothing personal."
Well, I'm here today to debunk the myth for all time. Business is personal! As long as business is conducted among human beings, it will always be personal. In the next few minutes, I hope to make the case for recognizing the important personal elements of all business and work place communications.
To begin with, let's look at the various roles we take on, often simultaneously:
We are managers, salespeople, clients, vendors, producers of products and services. In the workplace, we take on those roles and many others throughout the course of our careers. At the same time, we are spouses, parents, mortgage holders, automobile owners, customers, and many other things.
Sometimes it's hard to put ourselves in little boxes to keep those roles separate. If your child is sick, can you really put your role as a caring parent completely aside when you take on the role of supervisor at work? When creditors are beating a path to your door, can you just ignore them and take on your role as a salesperson? The fact is that no matter what kind of work you do, your personal needs always influence your workplace behavior. Anyone you communicate with has to be able to appreciate that, without, of course, taking responsibility for it. We ignore our coworkers' personal needs only at peril of not getting the job done.
So what are these personal needs we all have? Fortunately for all of us, they're not rocket science. They’re pretty simple and straightforward:
- We have the need to be valued and respected
- We have the need to be heard and understood
- We have the need to be meaningfully involved in decisions and the carrying out of those decisions
- We have the need to understand what's going on, why things are the way they are, and how decisions that affect us get made
- We have the need to be supported when we need help or resources that we can't access on our own
If each of us takes responsibility for meeting these personal needs of our coworkers, we not only set the example of how to treat one another, we also facilitate the achievement of practical business needs in the work environment. Let's look at each of the basic personal needs in more detail.
1. When we are valued and respected, we build and maintain our self-esteem. We feel good about ourselves, which translates into higher levels of motivation and productivity. We value and respect one another by expressing appreciation, giving both positive and developmental feedback, and focusing on facts, rather than speculations.
- An example of a statement to a coworker that expresses value and respect might sound like this: "I understand that the changes in the process have caused you to miss a few deadlines. But because of your quick thinking and great planning, you were able to keep the delays to a minimum."
Imagine yourself on the receiving end of a statement like that. How would you feel about yourself? How would you feel about the speaker?
Think of a situation you're in with a coworker or anyone else you know. How would a self-esteem enhancing statement help your situation? What would you say? When you get time, take a couple of minutes to compose such a statement and share it with a partner.
2. The second personal need is to be heard and understood. Each of us can make that happen by listening well to what others say and responding with empathy. What do we mean by empathy? It's not the same as sympathy or pity for someone else. Empathy is understanding how and why a person feels the way he does. It's not agreement, either. We can empathize with someone's situation without agreeing with their feelings or point of view. And we can empathize with positive feelings - not just negative ones.
- An example of an empathic response to a positive feeling might sound like this: "The look on your face says congratulations are in order. You must be pleased with the results of the customer satisfaction survey."
- Another empathic response might sound like this: "It sounds like you're very upset with getting a broken DVD player. I can understand that. Let's figure out what we can do to get you one that works right."
Empathizing with negative feelings helps to defuse them and allows business to continue constructively. Once someone knows that you understand them, they can set their feelings aside and get on with what needs to get done. Empathizing with positive feelings helps people to know that you're paying attention to them and that you're in their corner.
Think of a situation you're in with a coworker or anyone else you know. How would an empathic statement help your situation? What would you say? When you get time, take a couple of minutes to compose such a statement and try it out with a partner.
3. The third personal need is to be meaningfully involved in decisions and how they're carried out. We do that by asking people for their ideas and by offering them opportunities to be a part of how those ideas are carried out. Of course it’s not always possible for everyone's ideas to be used in a project or process, but having the opportunity to present their ideas and know that they're being seriously considered allows people to get behind whatever the final idea might be without feeling like they've been passed over.
- An example of a statement that encourages involvement might sound like this: "I'd like to hear your thoughts on the customer feedback we've received and what recommendations you might have to address the issues."
Most employee surveys convincingly demonstrate that meaningful involvement in workplace decisions is valued more highly by workers than more pay. Really!
Think of a situation you're in with a coworker or anyone else you know. How could you ask that person for help or encourage them to be more involved? What would you say? When you get time, take a couple of minutes to compose such a statement and try it out with a partner.
4. The fourth need is to understand how decisions that affect us get made and why things are the way they are. When you share your thoughts, feelings, and rationale, people know where you're coming from, and they're more likely to cooperate with you, even if they aren't in full agreement with your decisions. No one likes to think that important decisions in the work place are arbitrary - and they're not - at least not usually. If you can share the thoughts, feelings and rationale behind a decision or a policy, people will tend to give you more slack.
- Here's what a sharing statement might sound like: "Let me give you some details on what started this process and why our group needs to have a key role in it."
- Here's another one: "I have to admit that I had some second thoughts about this new policy, but let me tell you why I changed my mind."
When you share your thoughts, feelings and rationale, the people you work with will tend to trust you more. When you let them into your thought processes, they can begin to see some of the logic behind your decisions and are more comfortable knowing that your comments and decisions are not off-the-cuff or completely arbitrary.
5. The fifth personal need is to be supported. People need to know that they're not out there all by themselves - that they have coworkers, supervisors, and an organization behind them. At the same time, supporting others doesn’t mean taking their responsibility from them. Taking over someone else's task is not the same as support. In fact, it sends a negative message that is usually interpreted as "you don’t think I'm smart or competent enough to handle this." Besides, if you make a habit of taking over someone else's work, you'll never get your own work done.
- Here's what a supportive statement might sound like: "Yes, I could make the call and explain the situation to the customer, but you’ve been their key contact up to now, and I expect they'd rather hear this from you. Let's take a few minutes to talk about how you can present the information to them."
Offering support without taking over tells your coworker that you have confidence in their skills or their ability to learn a new way of doing things. It also helps both you and your coworker to become more familiar with your organization's resources and with each other's ways of thinking. Most importantly, it has the potential to build new skills in you and your coworkers and increase your value to the organization.
How often have you been tempted to take over when a coworker needs help? Think of a situation in which you have a choice between taking over or offering help without taking over responsibility. What would you say? Take a moment when you have some time to write your statement and try it out with a partner.
Let's wrap it up now, but before we do, please keep in mind that:
- Business is personal - always
- Everyone has personal needs that need to be addressed
- Meeting people's personal needs often help the practical business needs to be met
- You can meet people's personal needs by changing the way you communicate with them - in some cases, not much of change is needed.
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions about this or any other topic in leadership and communication, give Barry a call at 314-539-5329. This has been a presentation of the Center for Business, Industry and Labor at St. Louis Community College. We provide business solutions that are on target, on demand, and on-site. Keep up the good work!