Engaging Your People – Part 3 of 6

In the previous article of this series, we talked about how to make the WOWplace respectful. This week’s topic focuses on Rule #3: a WOWplace is HUMAN… not HUMANOID.


What I mean by this is that we all have feelings that seek to be satisfied. We want to laugh, cry, feel. We do not want to (nor can we) check our emotions at the door to the workplace.

Therefore, those who say there is no room for emotion in the workplace are just fooling themselves. There already IS emotion in the workplace. Too bad much of it is negative. So, if we are forced by human nature to make room for negative emotion, we must choose to balance it off by making room for positive emotion, as well.

Just think of the “humanoid” characters in any of Star Trek or Star Wars series:

  • Mr. Spock, half human/half Vulcan (Vulcans have had all human emotion “trained” out of them);
  • Data, an android incapable of feeling or displaying human emotions;
  • C3PO, R2D2 and BB-8 from the Star Wars movies, who are all cute and do seem to have personalities, but lack true human emotions.

While it may be cool to dream about working with any of them on a starship light years into the future, the fact is that today – here and now – we are all human at heart… at our core. And we all have emotions that accompany us everywhere we go – even to the workplace.

Therefore, human compassion and empathy are key factors in a leader’s effectiveness because they allow us to recognize that we are all human, and all dealing with something at any given point in time. How we react to the all-too-human situations that others are experiencing can mean the difference between success and failure when asking for their help, support or even simply their engagement at work, in return.

The following story illustrates our ability (and human obligation) to allow empathy and compassion for others to guide our actions – and their reactions.

My husband has a friend named Joe, a burly, 6’5″ guy with a shock of white hair on his head and a completely infectious laugh that can be heard from one end of a room to the other. Joe absolutely loves life and people – and it shows!

Joe told us of a time when he was a debt collector. I know, that sounds like a contradiction in terms because how many debt collectors do you know who absolutely love life? But I believe Joe was the perfect person to tackle this challenging job.

He told us of a couple who had gotten so far behind on their stove payments that Joe had to repossess the stove. But when he arrived at the couple’s home, the wife was cooking dinner on the stove and it wasn’t done yet.

Any “humanoid”” would have asked, “That’s my problem – why? Oh no, it’s not!” and they would have taken the stove anyway. But not Joe, who had gotten to know and like this couple. Better yet, they had gotten to know and like him.

So, the wife suggested, “Let me finish cooking dinner. Then, please join us for dinner and afterward, you can take the stove. Will that work?” So Joe stayed for dinner!

How many debt collectors do you know who would get invited to dinner at someone’s home, especially when they’re trying to take their personal possessions away? Not many! But not many debt collectors are human enough to get an invitation to dinner, as Joe did.

Joe proves beautifully that you can be human and still get your job done.

How can we apply this in our workplaces?

  1. Start by being more observant. You can’t be human, empathetic and compassionate to anyone if you don’t notice the least little thing that’s wrong – or even just different – about them! Pay attention to their moods, smiles, frowns. Notice when something is different and ask about it. (Or, you can ask your assistant about it – they are usually in the know about everything! They can help you stay in tune with what’s happening with your people.)
  2. Say something right away. Whether you notice someone doing a great job or want to thank them for their help, don’t just PLAN to tell them how much you appreciate them at a later time. Later never comes! Do it immediately, before you get interrupted, forget or just get too busy and never get back to them.
  3. Make what you say meaningful. Studies show that peer reinforcement and praise are often more meaningful than praise from a leader. But this is usually because praise from peers is specific, while praise from a leader is pretty generic. It is obvious when a leader has been told simply that someone did “something good” (who knows what? and who cares?), and they should praise the associate for their “good work.” Thus, it feels like mere lip service, rather than authentic praise. But if a high level leader gets specific about what the person did, how well they did it and the positive effect it had on the organization or their team, the value of that praise rises tremendously because it is genuine! And the higher the level of the leader, the more meaningful that kind of praise becomes because it is so unusual for someone at a much higher level to actually know what their people at all levels are actually doing.
  4. Put your actions (not necessarily your money) where your mouth is. Many small gifts of appreciation cost absolutely nothing to give… or their cost is minimal. A verbal thank you or a hand-written thank you note cost nothing to give, but can have a tremendous emotional effect on someone who continues to serve every day in a (seemingly) thankless job.
  5. Put a tiny amount of money, coupled with action, where your mouth is. A chocolate bar, or a small plant or flower arrangement costs almost nothing, but has the same emotional effect as a thank you note, but amped up by the extra action it took on your part to get it for them. This is especially true if you know the person well enough to know what would really mean something to them. Don’t just give the same generic gift to everyone… find out their favorite chocolate, flower, plant – or even store… and buy something they would truly love.

When a leader is more human in the workplace, engagement, satisfaction and trust/ respect rise proportionately to the level of humanity displayed by that leader. So, truly be a human in the workplace, rather than simply a “humanoid” who looks human, but lacks the emotional aspect of humanity, empathy and compassion for all the other humans around you.

The more human you are, the more your team will connect with, respect and LOVE you for it.

In the next article of this series, we’ll take a look at Rule #4: A WOWplace is Innovative, Creative and Fun!

Have a great week!


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