Workplace Relations #3

We learnt the basics of work relationships in WR #1 and #2. This week, I will give you examples of how I put my observations into action. The results were interesting to say the least!

My key observation? First impressions are usually wrong

Have you noticed that the emotional reaction or ‘vibe’ we experience when meeting someone for the first time can be extreme? It’s either “What a lovely person – I think I’ve found a friend!”, or “I’m not going to waste my time talking to this person – I DON’T like him [or her] at all!”

Much wiser now, I keep my opinions on hold. Time will tell whether I was right or wrong. In the meantime, I tread carefully. 

But time can also shake your faith in people. A close friend or loved one you’ve known for years will say something completely out of character that disappoints and distresses you. 

Bewildering isn’t it? But there MUST be a reason. If it deeply affects you emotionally, find out why and do it quickly

Now for some examples of how a few words – and a smile – can turn someone you thought was mean and unpleasant into a person you could learn to be friends with. (These are actual work colleagues, with names changed for privacy.)

Example 1

Cassie was in her late 20s and a wiz on every Microsoft application. She was attractive, super-efficient, and among the manager’s favourites – a position she flaunted. But I was not one of those she liked. I was too “old”, and I could sense her thinking, “How on earth did Shirley get to stay in that job for so long??” I admired her skills regardless – and the way she dressed and her work ethic. Her desk was close to my office and I badly needed someone to help me with Excel. It was worth a try …

Cassie had many photos around her workstation. Some with a good-looking young man, some wearing her football team’s jersey and lovingly hugging her dog. I felt a pet-lover couldn’t be that mean! Here’s what I said to her one Monday morning after watching Sunday night’s sports report: “Wow, you must have had a good weekend – Easts thumped the Broncos [Aussie rugby league teams]. They were awesome!! Did you watch it on TV or were you at the game?”

The change in her manner, body language and facial expression took me by surprise. She immediately turned away from her PC screen. Smiling, eyes alight, she said: “Yes it was so good, Shirley! I was at the game with my boyfriend. Didn’t know you followed NRL?” “Yes, I do like rugby league, though I prefer AFL”, I said. 

Now guess what we talked about every Monday? My team and hers! Our conversations led to discussions on fashion, saving money for her wedding and of course, her dog. When I asked, she guided me through my computer conundrums. 

Example 2

Salim was in his early 20s and worked in our cafeteria – his first job since migrating to Australia from Bangladesh. He wanted to know more about the hospital’s salary packaging and tax-free fringe benefits. He was shy and withdrawn – but he listened intently while I explained the process, and how much he would receive tax-free each fortnight. Although his English was not perfect, he asked intelligent questions. He grasped the concept quickly. 

At the same time, he would anxiously look over his shoulder, feeling he was taking up my time as there was a queue outside. He was about to get up when I asked, “Salim, what was your profession in Bangladesh?” His eyes lit up. “Oh Mrs Shirley, I was a bookkeeper and studied computer engineering; but as my English is not so good the only job I could find when I came to Australia was in the cafeteria.” “I can tell you’re smart, Salim. Stay in this job, study part-time. You will do very well – in a few years you could be working in IT!”

Salim did exactly that. Four years later, he was married with kids – a confident young man speaking excellent English and earning much better money as one of our IT consultants. And guess who I could always call to help “fix” my computer??

Example 3

John was in his 40s and one of our team leaders. He was an expert in payroll, but very moody. Was he smiling that day or did he always have that scary scowl?, we’d asked each other before approaching him. He did like a good joke though – but what caused his rotten moods? I followed him outside at one of his smoke-breaks. 

“John, could I please ask you a payroll question? I know only you would know the answer.” “Of course”, he said, solving the problem in a minute. Then I said, “I love working with you, John – you have such a good sense of humour – but you’re a worry when that thundercloud’s above your head!” Laughing, he put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry for that – I’m on medication for an immune-system condition. It does make me feel down in the dumps sometimes”.

So now we knew! 

Young and naive as I was in the first 10 years of my working life, I believed I had an abundance of many other things people wanted. Les Giblin’s “Triple-A Formula” includes the essentials: 

Acceptance. Don’t insist on anyone being perfect before you can like him” [or her]. 

Approval. Look for something to approve in the other person” [no matter how small or insignificant]. 

Appreciation”. Don’t be “stingy” with your praise and never forget to say thank you.

(Giblin, L. [1956]. 1986. How To Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People, p.68. Prentice-Hall Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.)

It is rare these days to walk into an office and see smiling, happy faces. Why? I believe managers now put themselves first, their “favourites” second and their staff last. What a surprise!

The bully (a team leader?)

“ … the arrogant person, who attempts to “put you in your place” or make you feel inferior, is really suffering from a low opinion of himself [or herself]. Keep in mind two things: Firstly he needs desperately to increase his own self-importance and is attempting to do so by beating you down, and second, he is afraid.”

(Giblin, p.16.)

I was in my late 40s when I read Giblin’s book, and decided to put his theory to the test. I approached my team leader Liz after hearing her criticising a workmate in front of us. I went to her office a few minutes later. “Liz, can we talk?” Surprisingly, she asked me to come in.

“Liz, it was embarrassing for us to witness what just happened. It’s not like you at all. What was wrong?” I was not angry, and more concerned than critical. Instead of making a blunt statement, I asked a question. Her answer was what I suspected. She had low esteem, and wanted approval and respect. She thought the way to achieve this was to be assertive, and to act “like a boss”.

I said to her: “I believe there are better ways to do this, Liz – I’ll leave 2 books on your desk tomorrow”. Before I left, wrote this for her:

A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.” 

Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), Scottish historian and essayist

I know this WR post has been long – but it was important enough to spend more time on! 

If you’re in a job or in your own business, please read these books: 

Human nature hasn’t changed. We just need to learn how to deal with each other. It’s such an important part of My Guide to a Good Life!!

4 thoughts on “Workplace Relations #3

  1. Sweta

    I love this post. One of your best works I must say. Your love and heart shows in the words you have chosen in this blog. Love your work Shirl. Xoxo.

  2. rosblatt

    Good Afternoon Shirley, Enjoyed reading your article and who did the drawings for you? Very cute. I also have the book How to win friends and Influence People somewhere, read it years and years ago, probably need to re read it. Yes, never a good idea to make snap judgments on meeting someone for the first time.

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