If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no  matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.                 – Daniel Goleman

If I asked, “quick tell me what’s the most important thing you can do right now to improve the effectiveness of your relationships at work?” I imagine I might receive a variety of responses from a gaping mouth, to wide eyes, to the possibility of a giant eye roll. I’ve found that the best way to talk about improving relationships and growing emotional intelligence is to share stories and allow the experience of someone else to percolate insight about our self.

Phil is a senior leader in his organization. He shared with me that he has a deep desire to improve how he encourages and inspires his colleagues and direct reports. At the same time, he feels stuck. He often has a sense of urgency to get back to his priorities for the day rather than spend time hearing what’s on his colleagues’ plates.

Recently, Phil and I were talking when he said, “Some people in my office have roles that just aren’t rewarding because what they do is not intrinsically motivating.” I replied, “How do you know that’s true?” Phil paused for a long moment and then said, “I have no idea. I guess I just assume it is, because I couldn’t imagine doing what they do.”

Phil started to unearth additional thoughts he realized were connected to his belief. At one point Phil espoused, “I feel a bit overwhelmed right now.” I asked him what he meant by that and he responded, “I’ve been assuming something that impacts how I think about and, in turn, how I interact with so many of my colleagues. I keep saying that I want to inspire and encourage others but I don’t even understand what actually motivates them.”

You can’t expect to influence others if you don’t understand what motivates them.

A person’s desire for organizational success is only one part of the puzzle. All around, you have colleagues, direct reports, supervisors, and senior leaders that are committed to the mission and vision of your organization. But what’s lost in the mix is the recognition that everyone has personal drivers, values and motivators. Understanding these helps clarify why and how others do what they do and their satisfaction doing it.

Phil assumed that certain people never felt rewarded because of the inherent nature of their role. Furthermore, he frequently avoided engaging these people because he believed that they were accomplishing responsibilities despite a lack of intrinsic motivation. Once he addressed his belief, Phil was able to recognize that he didn’t understand the full picture of what success looks like or feels like for his colleagues. Phil decided to close the gap.

In doing so, he took on a new belief. In order to learn how to inspire and encourage others he committed to understanding both the personal and professional motivators of others.

The way to inspiring others begins with a commitment to learn about them.

When I asked Phil what he was going to do to close the gap, I realized I could really benefit from taking on the same commitment. Here’s the approach Phil took:

1. In every single collegial conversation about a project or task ask at least two questions. What opportunity is most exciting to you? AND  What aspect is most challenging for you? Really listen to what is shared, wait for them to completely finish speaking, and follow-up with at least one more question about what they shared.

2. Consider a colleague who recently completed a task or project and ask for 10-15 minutes of his/her time. Ask (but not limit yourself to) the following and allow space between each question before moving to the next. What was your experience like accomplishing that project/task? What did you learn that you plan to apply to your next project/task? And lastly, what is one thing that you can share to express encouragement and/or appreciation toward this person?

I challenge you to try these simple steps in pursuit of developing more effective working relationships. And send me feedback. I would love to hear how it goes!


Andy Gingrich

Andy Gingrich

Andy brings more than 15 years of experience to leadership coaching, facilitation, and organizational development. At Andy's core, he loves helping people and organizations find their brilliance and magnify it. In his experience as an ICF certified leadership coach, Andy has learned that when leaders recognize their wisdom and purpose, they unleash the potential of others. Andy is a graduate of Georgetown’s Executive Leadership Coaching program. When time allows, Andy enjoys coaching athletes, traveling, reading, and watching movies.

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