While management is often a serious and goal-directed pursuit, there also exists a contrary approach – "management by walking around." The idea is that you can sometimes manage best just by wandering around the factory floor or office without any specific agenda other than to learn something useful and, more importantly, to establish connections with your coworkers and employees. These connections are some of the most important management tools you can develop.
I have also applied this idea to meetings. I've found that I often learn more of what I should know in the conversations that materialize before and after the actual meeting than I do in the meeting itself. When people feel connected to you, they are more inclined to share valuable information. If you don't maximize these opportunities, then you are missing out. In business – just as in life – connections are everything. Here are three tips for building better connections with your coworkers and employees.
1. Socialize Outside the Office
Don't miss out on opportunities to connect with coworkers.
One of our supervisors, Darlene, was assigned to regularly visit our properties in Seattle. Her work was excellent, but she was strictly a nine-to-fiver, whether in the office or on the road. In Seattle, she stopped work at precisely five o'clock and headed for her hotel room. No dinners with her coworkers or bonus time spent with suppliers. While I appreciate setting personal boundaries, Darlene was missing a perfect opportunity to build connections and get to know her coworkers better.
This is especially important when traveling for work with your coworkers. When I am traveling for business, the real work usually begins as day blends into evening. But even when you're not traveling, you can invite coworkers to join you for lunch or a coffee. Create opportunities to socialize where you can get to know one another outside of purely commercial concerns.
Learning more about the people I work with is invaluable to my managerial effectiveness. I find that I appreciate them more as fellow human beings and not just as employees or coworkers. These connections pay off when we are working together as a team to achieve business goals.
2. Show Your Appreciation
One morning, while I was returning to my office after a business lunch, I received a text from my assistant that read, "Thank you for being such a great boss." I had to smile. I felt as if the sun had peeked out from behind a cloud and warmed me with unexpected gratitude.
We all love to receive positive messages from the people we work with. Why wait to share an upbeat or encouraging message? Today, when I have a happy thought about someone, I take a break from my "important" work and send them a note via text or email:
"You did a great job in the meeting today."
"Thanks for getting back to me so quickly."
"I'm thrilled you closed that deal."
"Looking forward to seeing you at the conference."
Don't wait to tell several people right now how much you appreciate them! If you think someone you work with did a good job, let them know. Everyone likes to hear positive feedback, and it helps to solidify your connection to one another.
3. Treat Your Coworkers as if They Were Your Friends
Be generous with your time. Offer to help without an expectation of getting something in return. If you only asked people in the office for favors, they would feel put upon and less inclined to support you. Establish your investment in other people before you need to lean on them for favors. Learn about their interests and, if appropriate, their lives outside the office. Let them know you are thinking of them by sharing something – a great book you just read, home-baked goods, donuts, or bagels. If you know your officemate likes a certain coffee drink from your local coffee shop, why not pick one up for them? Acknowledge birthdays and other special occasions.
Show an interest in people's work and in their lives. Most importantly, be genuine about it. If you treat your coworker as a friend, they indeed might become your friend – and then you've made a connection for life.
Of course, none of these things will matter if you're not otherwise warm and pleasant at the office. And if you're not pulling your own weight, nothing will help you curry favor with your colleagues. But assuming you are pleasant and holding up your end of the bargain, these three tips will help you build strong, long-lasting connections with your coworkers and employees that will serve you well for the long term.
Alan C. Fox is the president of ACF Property Management, Inc., and The New York Times bestselling author of People Tools, a self-help series that offers advice on careers, relationships, and self-improvement.