While many loved ones celebrated Valentine's Day with a specially worded card and perhaps a delightful dining out experience followed by warm hugs and kisses, there are others who did not.On the extreme side of things, married military personnel who, although serving in the same location, can't share any intimacies because of the safety-related no fraternization policies. Still, others are forced to share a very different type of Valentine's Day celebration because their partners are absent due to travel or illness.
This wide variety of Valentine's Day celebrations brings to mind the increasingly varied interpersonal dynamics found in work environments such as family owned business or in small communities where everyone knows everyone and/or is related to everyone in some manner. This type of workplace creates unique stress situations that require additional sensitivity on the part of each worker.
Being successful in these types of dynamic environments is not easy and requires that workers pay particular attention to issues such as respect for others, confidentiality, interpersonal communication and conflict management. For those of you who work in these challenging environments, some of the following workplace tips might help you to navigate these choppy waters.
Focus on the work environment -- One of the most challenging issues for workers is to focus on the big picture of the work environment rather than the interpersonal dynamics. It doesn't matter who says what, the issue is the need to examine the overall problems and solutions and stay focused on organizational goals.
Understand organizational dynamics -- Although it may be convoluted because of the interpersonal relationships, every organization has its own power bases. Study and learn these dynamics. Look for individuals who are respected because of their job title and role; seek out those who are known to influence, and determine who has power due to technical expertise. Just because someone is related to the owner or business leader doesn't mean they have personal power. Determine and understand your own power base and how you can influence; apply these strategies to ensure your own career success.
Demonstrate respect for others -- While an individual working in the organization may be the business owner's family member, your own spouse, brother or sister and/or a former in-law for that matter, keep in mind that each person was hired to do a job and that they are perceived to have value to the organization. In other words, avoid falling into the trap of mislabelling these individuals as unqualified and incompetent as a result of their relationship.
As well, avoid putting extra pressure on these individuals to prove themselves. This is not your business nor is it your job. Instead, focus on doing the best in your own job. Stay professional.
Keep critique private -- To be blunt, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to put any negative emotions aside and demonstrate a neutral, respectful dialogue with everyone. Asserting unnecessary and inappropriate judgmental comments or critique based on your own anger, a negative family experience and/or hearsay makes you the culprit in creating a hostile and dysfunctional workplace. Keep any negative comments private.
Honour confidentiality -- As you know, the walls in most workplaces are at best thin and information, especially gossip, is spread quickly. The key here is not to be part of the underground information network. Include only those people who are relevant to the issue in your meetings, keep confidential documents in a locked drawer and avoid sharing with uninvolved family members.
Develop a reputation for integrity -- While small businesses and organizations are often casual and informal, it is still important that you demonstrate professional behaviour at all times. This means arriving at work on time and respecting all work hours and human resource policies and procedures. Don't expect special favours and exceptions. Maintain a high level of personal integrity and develop a reputation for ethical behaviour.
Become an effective conflict manager -- It's inevitable you will run into interpersonal conflict. Therefore, it is important to separate any emotional feelings for individuals involved in the conflict and once again focus on the organizational issue. Develop the skill of separating the main problem from the extraneous noise that typically accompanies a problem. Examine how the problem affects the organization, confirm the consequences, identify potential solutions and recommend specific actions that will work. Be prepared to compromise and allow for others to have an opinion.
Avoid conflict of interest -- No matter what, small organizations with dynamic interpersonal relationships will more frequently present situations where personal interests conflict with professional interests. In this case, it is difficult for people to act and be seen as objective and impartial. In extreme cases, an individual's involvement might also be illegal. Take care to avoid assigning couples to work in the same department and/or reporting to a spouse or parent. Ensure that individuals with close familial relationships are not included in discussions related to promotions, bonuses or other key human resource issues that personally affect them.
Focus on life/work balance -- In other words, leave work at work. Working in an environment where there are multiple family dynamics adds additional stress on top of just doing your job. Therefore, it is important to avoid thinking and talking about work while at home. Find different ways to park your workplace issues and concentrate on alone time, hobbies and/or family activities.
Engage in professional development -- It doesn't matter whether you're a direct family member or are related to other employees in some way, your job and success depends on your skills, your attitude and your ability to contribute to the success of your organization. Set a goal for yourself to develop your skills on a continuous basis. Become known as someone with the highest level of technical expertise in your field. Stay in charge of your career.
Network outside your organization -- It is important for you to develop relationships outside your work. Join a professional association, take a leadership role in a volunteer community organization and/or engage in personal professional development. Use these opportunities to stimulate your mind, meet and network with other people and develop additional external positive relationships.
Seek personal coaching -- Interpersonal dynamics in a small organization, particularly where there are family interrelationships, is difficult to say the least, but it becomes even more difficult when there are limited individuals you can speak to in confidence. This is the time to turn to a professional business coach who can provide objective, third-party advice.
Interpersonal dynamics in small family owned businesses and/or in rural communities where familial relationships intertwine, present challenging and unique workplace situations. However, it is not only the responsibility of each organizational leader to balance the dynamics of these issues; it is also the responsibility of each individual to manage their career in a professional manner.