When my phone rang, I couldn’t have been happier to hear my dear friend’s voice on the end. “How are you,” she asked. “I’ve been thinking about you.”
“Me too!” I exclaimed. “Wait, hold on a sec.” And for the next minute or more, that’s what I kept saying — “hold on” — the dog is barking. “Hold on” — my son needs something. “Hold on” — someone is at the door. “Listen,” I said, “I’m really sorry. I’ll call you back, promise.” And then I forgot.
Days later when I remembered that I forgot, I emailed her an apology asking when she’d be around so we could try again. Here was her response:
“No worries about last week! I took a chance … we’re all so busy … all the time. I sometimes long for the days when we were 20-somethings trying to find something to do … still we wouldn’t have this life or our wonderful relationship.”
No, we wouldn’t and I’m grateful for those carefree days when we had fewer responsibilities and a lot more time. But how did we get so busy that we often don’t have enough hours in the day for people who mean the most to us? Jobs, families, commitments. None of it seemed so complicated when we were younger and just had more time to ourselves. But things change. We change. And as change happens, it’s important to continue communicating if we want to stay connected to those who really matter.
The same holds true at work especially during challenging times. Recently a client called and confided he had a problem. Turns out one of his partners was accused of mismanaging some money. He said an internal audit showed the firm’s clients were not affected and tighter security procedures were being implemented, but he wasn’t sure what to say or do if people started finding out. I asked him if he had contacted his customers — some of whom had been with him for 30 years. He said no. When I asked why not, he said well if they find out, they might leave me. I said, guess what? If they find out you knew something was amiss and didn’t tell them, they’ll leave you anyway.
Communicating frankly and honestly is not easy for everyone. It’s also difficult for many people to express their true feelings especially in professional situations. Some workplaces encourage managers to think with their heads and not their hearts, but studies state failing to address someone’s emotional concerns may create a negative and difficult workplace. The Behavioral Coaching Institute advises that by keeping the lines of communication open and listening to workers’ frustrations, managers can create a more positive workplace where people feel their feelings matter. Additionally, a Wired magazine article titled, “Happiness and Sadness Spread Just Like Disease,” points out that workers who interact with an angry or critical employee tend to become angry and critical themselves. They begin focusing on negative emotions rather than their jobs, which in turn keeps others on their team from being productive.
So what does this have to do with calling my friend back? Because my friend and I have always communicated frankly, openly and honestly with each other even when it’s to share something one of us may not want to hear, we do not second guess or misinterpret each other’s actions. This is why we have stayed connected for so long. Communicating is not about talking. Communicating is about connecting. When we strive to connect with others, we create relationships. In our personal as well as our professional lives, strong relationships foster an atmosphere of trust and rapport that improves goodwill, productivity and outcomes.
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