Can Your Career Survive A Natural Disaster?

It is now January 2013, but help is still needed for those impacted by Superstorm Sandy, which hit back in November, 2012. If we are not directly affected by this type of event, we tend to forget those who have been after a period of time and I wanted to remind readers that many continue to struggle to put their lives back together.

Most of those people are the same people that survived and recovered from the horrors of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are now dealing with yet another traumatic event. The TV coverage has shown thousands of destroyed homes and property – people have lost almost all of their material possessions. But the outpouring of help and support from one another has been inspiring and offers hope in a desperate situation.

My big takeaway from all this? Bottom line –the human relationships is what’s really important. It’s not about the “things” we own, but the people in our lives that are the priority. While losing your home and belongings is overwhelming, time and time again, those impacted reflect on the fact that, “We are all safe, which is what is really important. Things can be replaced – as long as we still have each other, it will all be OK.”

This got me thinking about our relationships at work. What do you do in daily interactions that would prompt people to rally around you should your company/career experience a devastating blow? People who think that taking time to invest in building relationships at work is just a political game have it all wrong. Relationships are the main event! Yes, you need to have job-specific competence to do your job, but to influence others and truly make a contribution, it’s all about the relationships you build and maintain.

When I think of people who I consider to be Relationship Masters, here are some of my observations about what they do:

  • Take a genuine interest in others – learn about people outside of work. Are they married? Have kids? What hobbies/interests to they enjoy? What are they passionate about outside the office walls? Taking time to get to know people as a “whole person” is critical. In the process of discovering the answers to these questions, you will uncover common interests/situations and it begins the basis for having a deeper relationship. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how you much know until they know how much you care.”
  • Take a collaborative approach – share ideas, ask questions and seek to understand other’s opinions on a topic. Want to know the secret to being more collaborative? It’s simple…ASK MORE QUESTIONS. It sounds really easy, and it can be. However, there are a couple of components here that tend to trip people up. #1 – You want to ask questions that help you understand the other person’s perspective AND you have to ask relevant questions. That leads to #2 – You need to actually LISTEN to what the other person is saying. Don’t pretend to listen while you begin to formulate your next response. Make eye contact. Lean in. Focus on being present and ignore your buzzing phone or that “ding” when you receive a new email. I guarantee, when you effectively collaborate you build relationship.
  • Be more of a Giver than a Taker – if you are just reaching out to others when YOU need something without taking time to help them out or make a deposit in the old “emotional bank account”, you’ll be considered a Taker. You know the type… “it’s-all-about-me” type. When you see a team member struggling or know that someone just got slammed with a ton of new work, offer to help out. Offering some positive feedback or complimenting how they handled tough questions in a meeting can really give someone a boost. Sharing helpful information or articles is appreciated. And of course a hand-written thank you note means more to people than you can imagine.

If there’s ever a point where you’re not getting as much as you’d like from your career, think about how much you’re giving. Are you investing in building relationships? Fancy titles and the corner office can be swept away in the blink of an eye, but the people you touch and relationships you build will be with you for always.

Image credit – Mark Lennihan/AP

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at