As an underground coal miner, I worked with a lot of hard-working, well-intentioned people. However, there were a few in the union and management ranks who for some reason believed that bullying was the path to getting their way. Consequently, I witnessed a great deal of disrespect. At times I even found myself the source of disrespectful behaviors in a culture frequent with it.
Therefore, after I left the mines and was looking at different graduate programs for a doctorate, I was drawn to the School of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. I sought courses that could help me understand the dynamics of human communication and how to be successful in a respectful way.
Today, as I facilitate sessions on communication and conflict, I focus on defining respectful communication. My participants describe it as a particular tone of voice, facial expression, posture, and eye contact. I demonstrate both respectful and disrespectful examples for each of these behaviors and suggest my participants choose a positive behavior to practice.
Another way of improving your communication environment is to purposefully listen and give people time to make their points. Then, most importantly, one must take action on the delivered message or explain what you can or cannot do. Just because you listen does not mean you will always agree. However, a respectful dialogue is critical to the morale of a team.
Another thing leaders can do to enhance their communication environment is to be excited about work themselves. You can't motivate others if you have low morale. And if you have low morale, be assured others see it in your behaviors and hear it in your voice.
Finally, the best leaders understand the importance of rewards and experiment with them. They try simple celebrations for team successes. They set challenging but doable goals and order pizza for everyone when the goal is accomplished. They write a note about a specific positive behavior a team member demonstrated or walk over to the employee's workplace and share the feedback in person. The key element to a reward is that it must be one the team member values. If I, as the leader, create a reward I would want, I may or may not match the employee's desires. Oftentimes, people tell us what interests them. Maybe it is a Steelers' hat, or a Stephen King book, or any number of other things.
It is important for leaders to realize that anything they can say disrespectfully, they can say respectfully. And if you choose respectful behaviors, you will most likely get more of what you want in your work relationships. Leaders are responsible for setting a respectful communication environment and for giving positive feedback to maintain it and constructive feedback to guide behaviors into more respectful behaviors. Remember, a respectful communication environment is not an accident - it takes work and focus.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.