Engaging Your People – Part I of 6

There is a lot of talk about how to get people to engage at work. Too often, we see employees and colleagues who are just going through the motions, creating:

  • Motion without emotion
  • Performance without purpose and
  • “Improvement” without impact.

There is no reason for any of us to “simply endure” until we get to quitting time (when we can get back to our “real lives” – where we actually feel as though we make a difference).

Enter The WOWplace® Rules, which help us see how to engage others in the workplace, help them realize that they have valuable contributions to make… and allow them to make those contributions to advance their own success and the success of everyone around them.

Rule #1: A WOWplace is SAFE


Don’t let people feel like they are “perched on a cliff”!

This rule is all about building trust.

Let’s take one scenario as an example: Why don’t people share their ideas and knowledge in the workplace? Outside of the obvious reasons that they don’t think of sharing them or writing them down – or they’re too rushed to even articulate their ideas – the reason many don’t share is often because they don’t feel safe doing so.

They need to be able to trust us to allow them to:

  • Make the right choice, even if it’s not the popular choice.
  • Use their judgment to do the right thing for a customer or colleague.
  • Offer suggestions without fear of embarrassment, retribution or having a great idea stolen by someone else.
  • Question the status quo, especially when it’s clearly not working.
  • Suggest a great new idea without having to assume full responsibility for implementing it (on top of having an already overfull workload).
  • Show up at work without having to wonder who will show up with them that day – Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde…

This is just a short list of the many variables that contribute to either creating a collaborative and pleasant atmosphere in the workplace… or making it a toxic environment where no one is truly safe to emerge from the ranks to make a suggestion.

Making the workplace SAFE is not limited to those with formal titles. While leaders can certainly exert more power over people’s careers due to their titles, co-workers can exert more power over people’s morale due to their proximity in the workplace. So, it’s up to everyone to make the workplace a safe place to engage, contribute, and make a difference.

Here are a few suggestions to build trust and make it safe for people to engage:

1.  Learn to compartmentalize, so you leave your personal baggage at home.

Find a way to put personal problems into their own “emotional compartment,” so you can put them aside and focus on your work – and your behavior in the office. Not only will this help you be more productive, but it will help your co-workers as well, since they will be affected to one degree or another by your actions and your mood. Remember that no one works in a vacuum – we all interact with and affect each other every day.

Some suggestions to help you compartmentalize are as follows:

  • Talk to a trusted friend or advisor before coming into the office (maybe the night before) in order to get it out of your system before interacting with others.
  • Make a plan of what to do to handle the situation; nothing feels better than knowing at least the first step in how you will proceed to mitigate the negative circumstances in your life.
  • Even if you just yell, scream or otherwise vent in your own car – get the emotions out of your system. Not only will this let off some steam, but articulating those emotions and feelings could actually help you come up with ideas of what to say or do at a later time. Just don’t come to the office an emotional wreck – with all of those emotions right at the surface, ready to explode out at the first person you meet.

This is especially important if you have a titled leadership role. I once had a boss whose interaction with his wife each morning could be ascertained by the way he entered the office: either slamming his way in or by behaving in a gracious manner. Needless to say, no one approached him about much on the days when he came slamming into the office… which became much more frequent over time.

2.   Think first; talk later.

Good leaders share their concerns only with select others, and only when necessary. Rather than straining even close relationships by constantly going to people with every worry or concern, they first think to themselves about what is happening and how to correct a situation. This can often lead to a simple solution that can be quickly implemented without involving everyone in the department (or anyone else, for that matter).

If a problem is large or complex, thinking first about how to effectively articulate and approach it, then deciding who really needs to know and be involved will make those initial conversations quicker, more fruitful and less stressful for everyone involved… which will also lead to quicker resolution of the problem, with as little impact on others as possible.

3.   Refrain from engaging in gossip.

I know this is “common sense,” but how often do others try to drag us into those conversations? And we sometimes find ourselves smack in the middle of them before we even realize what’s happened! Some people are masters at steering a conversation toward their gripes and those who “cause” them.

This doesn’t mean you should treat every potentially negative conversation as gossip. There are times when negative incidents are happening that must be addressed. Or someone just needs to vent to a trusted friend.

When you start to hear what sounds like a complaint, or another person’s name is mentioned in a derogatory manner, first consider the source. Is the person a known complainer? If so, tread carefully so as not to sound as though you simply agree with them and are joining in the bashing of another employee. If the topic is something you’ve heard over and over again from that same person, disengage as quickly and gently as possible. Or defend the other person by saying, for example, “That doesn’t sound like her at all. I hope nothing is wrong.” This lets them know you don’t agree with their generalization while also offering them a way to “save face” by agreeing with you and grabbing the chance to drop the conversation.

However, just because someone is a complainer doesn’t mean that they will never come up with a valid complaint. If their complaint is valid, again be careful of simply agreeing with them, but let them know you will look into the issue and talk to the person to find out what is going on.

The best part of this strategy is that once a complainer knows you will go to the source, they will usually stop coming to you with invalid gripes because they’d much rather complain “behind someone’s back” than have to confront them with an issue. This also lets others know that you won’t take anyone else’s word for it, but will come directly to them to give them a chance to defend themselves.


There are so many ways to make our workplaces SAFE for others to engage at the highest levels and feel as though they are making a difference with their contributions. These are just a few ideas that can be implemented immediately to help build higher levels of trust in the workplace.

Next week, we will move on to Part 2 in this series – creating higher levels of RESPECT.

Have a great week!



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