Tag Archives: conflict

Why We Need More Love At Work: How to Show Empathy Towards Colleagues

I have to report that I found it difficult to work for a couple of days recently. My mind was very preoccupied with some pretty heavy thoughts and the simple task of getting on with my work seemed very unimportant and consequently, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

The cause of this situation was a piece of bad news I received at the end of the week. For a year I hadloveatwork been working with a very impressive lady who I had appointed as my accountant. I originally met her at a networking group meeting and was immediately struck by her warm welcoming manner, professional attitude and smart dress sense – in this case one of her apparently trademark flowery dresses. After talking with her on several occasions at other meetings of the networking group and exchanging a couple of emails we arranged a one-to-one meeting and it was my pleasure to spend an afternoon talking with her over a pot of tea, sharing business knowledge and experience and eventually waxing lyrical over some deep and meaningful stuff.

Having agreed to engage her as my accountant, we kept in touch over the course of the year. I continued to enjoy working with her and was very impressed and grateful when she managed to extract a rather rare and handy tax rebate from HMRC. Bonus! I had expected our working relationship to continue well into the future and was pleased to be supporting her small but growing accountancy practice. In fact, I was very happy when she wrote to me around Summer 2014 to let me know she was taking on extra staff. Not a surprise, given the quality of service she was giving her clients.

So it was with considerable shock and great sadness that around November 2014 I learned that this dynamic young lady had been a cancer patient for the last few years and circumstances had developed such that she was closing her business to spend more time with her family. It is difficult to find appropriate words in response to such information.

I sent her a message expressing my sympathy at hearing her news and wishing her and her family the best, thanking her for handing over my file to a reputable local accountancy firm. She replied, thanking me for my email and stating that “being able to handpick the firm that would look after my clients in the future was very important to me”. Such professionalism and consideration.

That was the last contact I had with her. Although one could guess that it was likely to happen at some point, I was very sad and slightly shocked to receive an email informing me that this warm, endearing, professional person who had much left to give both personally and professionally, had succumbed to her illness aged just 31.

Although I didn’t know her well, hearing of her passing has affected me over the last few days. And it has raised one question in my mind.

What Is Really Important?

You know, every one of us becomes wound up and irritable on a daily basis due to something that happens at work. Just the other night, my wife came home in a blind rage because her manager had asked her how the hole-punch worked one time too many.

Some years ago, when I was still an employee, I had a miniature explosion over the fact that my office colleagues had berated me for not bringing in adequate supplies of cake on my birthday.

And of course, we have all heard about Jeremy Clarkson’s outburst when he discovered that following a long day of filming for Top Gear, the associate producer had failed to ensure that there was a hot steak dinner waiting for him when he returned to the hotel.

The little things get to us on a daily basis. I once managed an admin team where 80% of the team members experienced raised blood pressure whenever a particular colleague stopped working for two minutes to apply her hand cream.

The thing is, all of these little issues that occur at work seem so important to us at the time. But have you ever noticed that when you move jobs, you no longer care about the minute detail of what happened at your previous workplace? Funny, isn’t it?

Well actually, it’s not funny. One of the key causes of tension and stress in the workplace is intolerance. We are all guilty of this. There are certain things that we find difficult to tolerate. Somebody not cleaning their coffee cup to a schedule that satisfies our opinion of what constitutes good hygiene. The noisy typist. The person who doesn’t put the tea towel in the kitchen back in the right place. The person who won’t stop talking about their children. The phantom photocopier jammer. The secret snot depositor. These are the things that make our blood boil. They drive us MAD!

But NONE and I really mean this, NONE of them MATTER.

They are inconsequential.

Every one of us is a human being, which means we are imperfect. We all have irritating traits. When you are in a closed environment with the same people day after day, these little quirks begin to add up and after a while, you start to find them frustrating and annoying. And this is entirely understandable, like I said, we’re all human beings.

But hang on, let’s think about that statement again – we’re all human beings. So if we’re all human beings, then surely we can empathise with each other’s little quirks and behaviours? Because we all have them. Surely we can CHOOSE not to get irritated by the colleague who insists on sitting by the window because they struggle to regulate their temperature and regularly need cold air to keep them comfortable?  Surely we can opt to be more tolerant and understanding?

And were we to choose to be more tolerant and understanding, the benefits would be considerable. We would be less stressed, able to concentrate on our work better. We’d be less likely to dread coming into work on a Monday morning. We’d have better relationships with our colleagues. We’d be happier.

The key skill we need to upgrade is empathy and understanding for others. Here’s a few tips as to how you can demonstrate that and therefore build strong rapport and relationships with your colleagues:

1. Listening skills – paying close attention to the detail of what another person is saying, not just hearing them. What can you pick up?

2. Awareness of values – listening for and appreciating other people’s values and using them to build rapport with the person. What’s important to them? What might be motivating them to behave like they do? What do you have in common?

3. Validation – Make people feel good about themselves by validating what’s important to them in their life.

4. Matching – Observe how other people are behaving and match your behaviour to theirs. This puts you on a level with them and allows you to engage with them more easily on their own terms.

When it comes down to it folks, getting annoyed by the small stuff in the workplace is just not worth it. You’ve probably heard the phrase “life’s too short” far too many times, but it really is true.

I had a sharp reminder of that recently when I received the sad news about my accountant. How would you feel if it was one of your colleagues that had died? Would their irritating habits still matter to you then?

Give yourself and those around you a break and show some empathy for those you work with. Remember you have your own annoying habits and that’s OK because we’re all human.

Let’s all make a vow to be more tolerant within our workplaces – if for no other reason than this:

Life is too short not to be.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Lauren Burgoine. 


Back to Work… or is it School? – The Origins Of Workplace Stress

It’s September 1st and everyone is back to work after a refreshing summer break. The business world is re-awakening from its slumber and getting ready to make the next step forward.

At the same time, children are returning to school with a collective groan. And perhaps, a good number of us are making similarly negative noises about returning to work. But why Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 13.38.24would we do this? What is it about going back to work that makes us apprehensive and miserable?

Well, I’d like to mention one leading factor of the September Blues – office politics.

Ah yes – that pesky little phenomenon that we’re all used to, that we all tolerate on a day-to-day basis but nobody likes. The thought of returning to an environment full of poisonous political behaviour is enough to make most people wish for an epically disastrous unexpected weather event to relieve them of the need to go to work.

Office Politics

Ask most people about office politics and they are likely to tell you that they believe it is unavoidable – it’s just a natural result of putting people together in a room for sustained periods of time. And it is. But it doesn’t have to be.

For a moment, let’s take a step back. At this point I would like to ask you to think about your school days. What behaviours did you see going on at school? What kind of things did people do? What political games did people play?

Hopefully, your reflections will have reminded you that there is such a thing as school playground politics. And perhaps you might already be realising that there are striking similarities between the political behaviour you remember from your experiences of school and the dreaded phenomenon of office politics.

And the reason for this is simple. They are the same thing.

The reality is this –  most adults have not unlearned the destructive and childish behaviours and mindsets they left school with. Behaviours in the workplace such as victim mentality, blaming and persecution, consensus paralysis and past focus are all typical manifestations of these problems and are the things we experience as “office politics”.

The fact is that office politics is optional. The behaviour needed to create politics is chosen by people within the organisation. It may be a subconscious choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless and can therefore be changed. The problem is most grown adults don’t have a clue how to behave any differently. They’ve never been shown an alternative.

The unfortunate truth is most people behave like schoolchildren when you put them in an organisation. They’re going to of course, because being an employee within an organisation is really no different to being at school. You have a hierarchy, variable levels of intelligence, performance and popularity amongst the members, rules and regulations and a sense of duty – i.e. you are required to be there or else. If people haven’t learned alternative behaviours then they simply revert back to those they practiced at school, as fundamentally, the situation is the same. People revert to type under pressure.

Choosing Not To Engage

The good news is that you personally have a choice over this. Every one of us can change the way we behave as individuals. What we cannot do is change the behaviour of others – we can only influence it through our own actions. If you choose not to engage in office politics, then you create a circle of influence around you which helps to move others away from the destructive behaviour.

So what you must do is this:

1.) Read my blog article “You Are All Diseased”. This will show you the 4 main behaviours that create office politics and how to avoid them. You can find it here: https://franklinhackettltd.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/you-are-all-diseased/

2.) Check out the document “Office Politics 101”. This shows you how to recognise when political behaviours are taking place, based on the language people use. You can find it here: http://www.franklinhackett.co.uk/Resources/Office%20Politics%20101.pdf

3.) Observe your own behaviour and try to avoid falling into the negative behaviours I’ve described. Widen your antennae and become more aware of how other people are behaving. Use your alternative positive behaviours as a lever to influence their behaviour. Don’t get dragged down by the negativity – rise above it.

If you increase your awareness and become a positive role model you will make a difference – both to your personal happiness and emotional health and to the culture of your team and subsequently, the organisation itself.

Office politics is really just school playground antics souped up with shirts and ties. So bear this in mind as you return to work this week – do you want to go back to school or back to work?

I leave the choice to you.

Note: for help and advice on these issues, please feel free to contact me via email – info@franklinhackett.co.uk. 

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John Hackett

Managing Director, Franklin-Hackett Ltd.