Last night, I was on the phone catching up with one of my cousins. He doesn’t work for a nonprofit, but our roles are similar enough that it’s easy for us to get lost in work chat. We eventually got onto the subject, and began opening up about the different challenges we faced that week.
He started to share a story about one of his supervisors, who I immediately remembered from a past conversation as being uniquely difficult to work with. If you’ve ever had to support someone who is disorganized, constantly changes direction and is generally unaware of your priorities, then you can understand the frustration that comes with working for that person.
But this week was especially hard on his team, and her too. Because in the midst of an emotional moment, she admitted to someone that she didn’t feel respected or heard by his team. This made no sense to my cousin, who often works late on her behalf to fulfill all those haphazard requests. To him, this person’s declaration was just “crazy”.
And then, the bells started to ring.
Maybe this supervisor works exactly the way my cousin described. I’ve worked for people that way, and when he claims to struggle because someone can’t anticipate their needs for a project, I get it. It’s even harder when those projects are technical, and the person calling the shots doesn’t have all the technical know-how to form their priorities.
At that point, it’s easy to form an opinion about the value someone brings to an effort.
But I’m willing to bet that this supervisor’s feeling isn’t off. If you’ve formed an idea of someone, and that idea is shared by your entire team, then that’s bound to color your interactions with that person. If they see her as disorganized and unrealistic, then they don’t have to explicitly say that for it to come across. Some people are incredibly perceptive, but also, we tend to reveal more than we think about our feelings towards people in the ways we relate to them.
This woman is also a newbie, leading a team of guys who have all been at their jobs for far longer. That kind of group dynamic easily gives way to exclusive behavior – something easy to miss when you’re on the inside, but hard to ignore when you’re on the outside.
And though it may not have been intentional, it’s something we’ve all done at one point in time.
We may not get along with every person that we work with, or even like them all that much. And although we should approach everyone with an open mind, we’re bound to work a job where we question the capacity and judgment of someone else. That’s just the reality of having a career for two, maybe three quarters of your life?
But at the end of the day, everyone deserves respect. And part of feeling respected is feeling like you belong.
We can never really know what someone else thinks, nor can we will them to think one way or the other. That’s why you might’ve decided that when it comes to making others feel respected, you hold very little power here. All you can do is continue to be nice enough, and hope that it will do.
That’s one way to do it.
But if we truly care about being kind in our careers, uplifting others and operating with complete integrity, then we need to make respect and inclusion part of our daily routine. Instead of thinking about kindness as a disposition or a personality default, we need to make it a practice – one to exercise and improve upon over the course of our lives.
Yes, there are ways we can proactively do this.
Don’t just be polite. Be inviting.
Remember the first day of school, or the first day on the job? Can you recall the nervousness and pressure of being in a completely new place, having to meet people and wanting to be received well? Yeah, it’s not fun.
Keep that in mind whenever you spot a coworker who’s just a little bit removed from the group. Whether they’re brand new to the job or have been around a while, try to make it a point to invite someone into the fold whenever they appear to be isolated.
And if you’re not in the habit of picking up on these things, well, give it a shot. The next time you’re in a group, scan the room and see if someone ought to be pulled in!
Allow everyone’s voice to be heard.
Some people naturally like to dominate the conversation! If you see someone trying to get a word in, or even sitting quietly in deep thought, invite them to speak up. They may not have anything to say, but at least you’re giving them the opening they may need if they have a worthwhile idea to share. (And if you’re the person who’s always sitting quietly in the meeting, I get you. I was you. But you gotta try to speak up more, [wo]man!)
Speak up when you see something that’s wrong.
There may come a time in your career when you spot someone saying or doing something that is plain wrong. If that happens, I hope you’ll feel empowered to do something about it.
And even on a smaller scale – if you see someone doing something just to make someone else’s life a little harder, like intentionally missing a deadline or neglecting to invite someone to team lunch, those opportunities are just as meaningful to intervene.
Help out when you catch someone struggling.
There’s a culture of survival that exists in some workplaces, where people are expected to sink or swim on their own. I’ve yet to experience this myself, but I know it can happen. And large cultural shifts aren’t exactly within our purview!
But if you can, try to help out when you see someone else having a hard time. Obviously avoid doing this for people that you know will take advantage of your generosity, but generally speaking, it’s nice to be known for ‘giving’ at work. Plus, the world is small enough that you never know how that person will return the favor, now or in the future!
Every once in a while, question yourself.
To be honest, I probably tend to over-analyze my interactions with people. Still, there’s a balance to be had; it’s worth asking yourself from time to time if your interactions with people are coming across the way you hope. It’s also important to question your intentions, too. Sometimes we do things out of spite, frustration or hurt, and that’s normal. We just have to be honest with ourselves about when it’s happening, so that we can correct ourselves. Think of it as an important practice in self-awareness – something we all can do better.
How do you go out of your way to make your colleagues feel respected and included?