Can you teach someone to care about others? Is it possible to train someone in the finer art of anticipating personal issues that tend to arise in the workplace? What about plain old civility-should you expect your employees to practice a certain baseline of mutual respect for their fellow workers?
They can always fake it, I say. I know, that must sound really shallow, but truly, can´t we all just be nice (or pretend to be)? For the most part, I think you can teach people in the workplace certain strategies for maintaining a certain degree of decorum as they say-a general feeling of cooperation, maybe even camaraderie. But it´s not just about being nice. It´s about mutual respect. And that is something that I´m not entirely sure we can teach. Perhaps it depends on the situation. The more difficult the circumstances the harder it can be for people to communicate.
This is especially true when you´re trying to find just the right language to use when a colleague is experiencing difficult times. What do you say when a loved one is ill or there´s been a death in the family? How can you offer support to working mother who´s worried about her 17-year-old son who´s somehow gotten involved with the wrong crowd? Sometimes, of course, it isn´t what we say to our colleagues (or anyone for that matter) but in what we don´t way. Listening all by itself can offer solace in ways that words can´t always express. So can you train people on how to listen, how to be supportive AND get their work done at the same time?
Instead of waiting for personal catastrophe to hit perhaps it might behoove companies to infuse their employee development programs with a component that addresses the language we need when difficult times do occur. You could include such a training piece within a communications program or a diversity workshop. If it´s something that´s important to the wellbeing of your staff, then you should consider including it in your training.
Unfortunately, none of us are immune to loss. We saw that five years ago and the ways that companies affected by 9/11 coped. Yet there are all kinds of losses and while we may like to think we can turn the mourning off when we go to the office it isn´t always possible nor is it necessarily the healthy thing to do. Simple statements like, "I´m sorry for your loss" go a long way toward helping a colleague just get through a morning. Offering to take someone who´s having tough time to lunch even if you wouldn´t normally do this is nice gesture, sort of the right thing to do. Supporting a fellow worker isn´t a promise of friendship, but it is a good way to strengthen a team.
How do people in your company handle loss?
Next time: more about how we can help each other