As human beings, we all need to feel significant, interesting, and that our contributions matter. Acknowledge this simple fact in your day-to-day interactions with colleagues and watch them transform into happier, more productive, and more effective professionals.

Think about a positive relationship with an important person in your life. What makes this relationship strong? What does it take to keep things running along smoothly? Now imagine what would happen if you suddenly decided to ignore the other person. You’re not being hostile to them or annoying them on purpose; you’re simply not paying attention. What do you think would be the result? Of course the relationship would eventually fall apart. No one likes to be ignored. Not your spouse, friend, or family member, and certainly not your colleagues! For relationships to work, social or professional, it’s important that both people invest – by showing an interest in each other.

The One-Sided Relationship

Have you ever been in a one-sided relationship? In most relationships, there’s one person who gives slightly more, and there’s another who takes slightly more. But typically, both people in the relationship are giving and taking to a similar degree. Otherwise, the relationship wouldn’t work as the giver would finally just “give” up! Let’s use a food analogy. Imagine you have a friend over to watch a big match, and you decide to order a pizza. If your relationship with your friend is a healthy one, then here’s what would probably happen: the pizza arrives and you sit down to eat. Depending on who’s hungrier, one of you might eat one or two slices more than the other. At the end of the day, though, you’re both full and satisfied.

Now consider what might happen if you’re in a one-sided relationship. The same scenario might end up looking more like this: you have a friend over and decide you’re hungry, so you order a pizza. You don’t ask if he wants to; you just do it. The pizza comes, and you eat the whole thing by yourself, completely ignoring your friend. How many times could you do it before they simply go elsewhere?

That’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. For both people in a relationship to be satisfied enough to make it work, there has to be both ‘give and take.’ We all know this is true in our personal relationships, but many of us go about our professional lives without applying this simple principle. Think about how much you give as a leader. And I’m not talking about how much work you do for the organisation – that’s a different issue altogether. I’m talking about how much you put into relationships with your colleagues and team members. You see, if you’re like most managers, you have no problem taking in your professional relationships. And your team is probably pretty good at giving. They may like you; they may fear you, but I promise you they are paying you attention. They’re the natural givers in the relationship. Are you giving back, or are you keeping the whole pizza to yourself?

ROI: Return on Interest

It’s clear why we need to pay attention to our personal relationships. We want to keep our family and friends because (hopefully!) we genuinely love them and like to be around them. But at work, it’s different. I mean, you’re not there to make friends, right? Says who? There are real advantages to paying attention to your team members in much the same way you would show interest in a personal relationship. Not only does it make the work environment a lot more positive, it will make your team much more productive and efficient. When you pay attention to your employees, they feel valued, and this value is transferred into their work. Instead of begrudgingly getting through their day, they begin to feel inspired to go beyond mediocre work to produce excellent results!

Why is there such a huge return on interest? There’s a certain psychology to this. Most healthy people have a genuine desire for symbiotic relationships. They want to give and take. So, when your team members see that you are putting effort into the relationship, they will naturally want to give even more. You’d be surprised how far a casual compliment on a team member’s recent presentation can go towards making her next project even better!

5 Ways to Demonstrate Interest

Now that we’ve discussed how important it is to show interest in your colleagues, let’s talk about some simple ways to put this philosophy into practice.

  1. Get to know your colleagues:

    Ask about their families. Communicate your interest in them as a person, not just as a source of completed work.

  2. Give unexpected praise:

    Go out of your way to praise team members for their accomplishments. Positive reinforcement trumps negative every time.

  3. Celebrate as a team:

    Don’t take all the credit. When your team accomplishes something great, go out of your way to emphasise their contribution – as a team and individually. Don’t hog the pizza!

  4. Defend them:

    When your team succeeds, you don’t get to take the credit. When your team fails, you must take all the responsibility. That’s just part of being a leader.

  5. Be genuine:

    People know when you’re just using some checklist you found in a leadership blog. So make the effort to actually be interested in improving relationships and the rest will follow.

I remember meeting the MD of a company at a networking event. He had a compelling message and spoke eloquently about his company and their offering. It was even something I needed. The only problem? He wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me, and no matter how hard I tried everything was expertly steered back to him and his company. He made an impression, no doubt about it. Even now – I have forgotten every other company I came across that day but will never forget the name of his company. And I made a mental note never to do business with them, ever.

Dale Carnegie once put it like this “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” It’s so true – yet too many of us follow the mistake in Bette Midler’s classic line from the film ‘Beaches’ – “But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?”

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Peter Anderton

Author: Peter Anderton

A sought after coach and change agent, Peter has spent many years in Organisational Development, focusing on developing high performance leadership teams, executive coaching, strategy and change. He builds relationships quickly and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is at ‘grass roots’. Known for his integrity, energy and a real passion for making things happen, he has a uniquely direct yet supportive style that delivers.

Peter is a qualified NLP master practitioner, a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and a Chartered Engineer.