SAFE Steps to Building Great Relationships
By Jim Dawson
is full of people, but how many of us are really talking to one other?
How many opportunities do we miss because we are afraid to
share our thoughts and feelings about the things that matter?
Most of us avoid getting to know people who are
outside our immediate circle of family and friends.
And when we question how well we actually know the people
closest to us, the unfortunate answer may be not well at all. We
hide behind the walls we’ve built to keep us secure from people we
don’t know well and haven’t learned to trust.
And whether we intend to or not, the more we depend on email, voicemail, fax, and other media to share
information, the better hiders we become.
Ironically, the only way we can truly be safe
and successful is to be in meaningful relationships with other people,
not hiding in isolation. We
build meaningful and lasting relationships by having meaningful
conversations. The way to
build support systems, uncover opportunities, or help others is to
talk about things that matter on a regular basis with the people
To do this effectively, we need the courage to
come out from behind our walls and create an environment that
encourages others to open up and communicate.
We need to learn and use the following four SAFE steps to
building great relationships.
S=Solicit – be open to others: People will want to talk with you if you show
an interest in them and you are open to their opinions.
Asking someone questions such as “Where did you grow up?”
or “Where are you going on your next vacation?” will reveal more
details about this person, and help you find more things in common,
than asking “What do you do for a living?”
In most organizations, there is a wealth of
ability and talents just waiting to be tapped.
But if people aren’t talking, these hidden treasures never
come to light. A good way
to build a safe environment at work is to be observant and ask
questions. If you are a
manager, ask your employees about their backgrounds, hobbies, and
accomplishments and use the information to the organization’s
A=Attend – be mentally and physically present:
If you want a colleague to open up to you, give him the attention he
eye contact and body language that your conversation is the
most important thing you are doing at that time.
Don’t answer the phone or work on the computer.
questions that drill down and across the topic you are discussing so
you can explore his thoughts from various angles.
Regardless of what you hear, don’t
judge or criticize. Use
discernment to interpret what he is saying, and listen in terms of
what you want to accomplish with this relationship.
consideration is the physical environment.
Is privacy important or is it ok to talk where others can hear?
Would a conference room or your office make the other person
feel more at ease? Neutral
territory and even ground is usually helpful when you are trying to
resolve a conflict. Remember
that the environment can influence how easily people share their
F=Focus on what’s important: Many people are afraid to express
their feelings or to ask for what they want.
Or they simply don’t know how to clearly articulate their
thoughts. You have to
listen with all of your senses, not just your ears.
If you are interviewing a job applicant, notice if he looking
at you or around the room. Ask
yourself how you feel about the answers he is giving you.
If you are hearing the right words but something doesn’t feel
right, you can get more information by asking about his feelings on
the subject. Try a few
open-ended questions and then summarize what you understand you’ve
employee complains about one thing then brings up other problems, help
him focus on what is most important to
him by surgically removing whatever is getting in the way.
Don’t let him dwell on things that are not productive to the
conversation. And don’t
assume, as people often do, that you know what he needs.
You’d be amazed how much you miss when you assume you know
what someone is talking about.
E=Encourage Honest Communication: Most people encourage limited
communication by their attitudes and behaviors.
We condition others to approach us in certain ways by how we
respond to their requests for our attention.
If your boss is always busy, rushed, or distracted when you
approach her, you’ll think twice before you come to her with a
problem she should know about.
encourage honest communication, treat people with respect, even if
they are not in the room. Don’t
allow finger pointing, gossiping or the use of absolutes such as
“always” or “never.” Don’t
put up barriers by asserting your rank or talking above their heads.
Do let them know that you care about what they are saying and
that you will use whatever they tell you for
them, not against them.
problem arises, don’t punish people for making mistakes when they
are trying to do their jobs or help the company succeed.
Instead, ask, “What were you thinking about when you did
that?” or “How did you come to that conclusion?”
Try no-fault problem resolution meetings.
Rather than look for who is at fault, why not find the problem?
Bring the problem to the table, not the person to the woodshed.
This will give you a better chance of identifying and figuring
out together what the problem is and how to fix it.
Another benefit to this approach is that once trust is
established, people will bring you problems and take ownership
of them. This will save
you time and the company money many times over.
The key is
to demonstrate on a consistent basis that you are there to help in any
way you can. Leaders
are here to serve, not to be served.
Model this behavior and people will come to trust you and your
dialogue takes time and effort. But
it is necessary if you want to create quality relationships.
What it costs on the front end will pay you great dividends on
the back end in terms of enhanced teamwork, quicker problem
resolution, and increased individual responsibility.
Because you were interested enough in being in dialogue with
them, people will work harder for you.
They will give you information you didn’t ask for and
didn’t know was out there. They
will “cover your back” when you didn’t know it needed covering.
gets anywhere without someone else helping them.
People who climb the ladder with others pushing them up are
happier than those who climb it by any other method.
You never know when you might need help and, if you have
invested your time in getting to know the people around you, when you
need support you’ll know whom to call.
master the steps to keeping your communications SAFE, you have the
key to tearing down the walls between us, and to building lasting
relationships throughout your personal and professional life.
What is the value of creating effective dialogue with those
around you at home, in the community, and at work?
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