That was my colleague’s reaction as I stepped into her office.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“I’m just wondering what I did wrong now.”
I was visiting my colleague to inquire about a basic work question. No issue, no conflict, no problem. But her reaction to my appearance was a clear indication that our previous interactions had not been positive. Seeing me meant trouble. It meant she was going to hear a complaint or criticism.
As I absorbed this reaction, I realized that I hadn’t been practicing what I regularly preach about nurturing positive work relationships during good, comfortable and easy times at work. If we work to build a safe, trusting rapport with our colleagues when there are no problems, it will serve as an important foundation when trouble, difficulty and conflict arise. I clearly hadn’t been living up to my own sermon.
Reflecting on this dynamic, I thought of how my wife, Lisa, models this behavior. Many years ago, when we both worked at the same agency, I observed that Lisa had a unique ability to get to know and develop warm, friendly relationships with her colleagues. Then, when Lisa called on them for assistance, which she did sparingly, her colleagues would all but fall over themselves to help.
As I shared the uncontroversial nature of my visit, I could see the tension fade from my colleague’s face. After we talked through the reason for my visit, I decided to linger for a while longer. I engaged in some light conversation and tried to begin building the foundation for a more comfortable rapport. It would have helped if I had established that foundation before stepping into her office that day. But it’s never too late to start.
When someone reacts negatively to us at work, we should recognize it as a sign that we’ve got work to do. Acting proactively to develop and nurture friendly, constructive relationships when there are no difficult issues to address will help us to weather the occasional rough patches we may encounter later.
This blog does not represent official policies of the Corporation for National and Community Service or those of the U.S. Government.
Jeffrey Page is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
This was a really wise post! I grapple often with how I am perceived and how we tend to view others. As a workforce professional, I feel that lessons such as this should be a basic component on onboarding for all employers.
I agree with you about the need to incorporate these kinds of lessons into our onboarding processes. There are so many technical aspects of our work that we are always careful to address in these kinds of orientations and trainings. But there’s so much more we could do to increase employees’ awareness of the important hows of our work (e.g., how best to work together collaboratively), as opposed to focusing exclusively on the whats of our work. Thanks for your comment. Jeff