Building Meaningful Work Relationships: Part 2

This is one post where much of the science and research goes out the window, and I will face the facts that I know this typology way too well as it describes me. The focus will be on the struggles and the process of over coming the negative feelings that dictate unhealthy relationships. This typology is one of “Dismissing”

Again, the background information comes from the Third Edition of Broderick and Blewitt’s textbook “The Life Span.” The photo of the chart is taken from the same text. The theory is Bartholomew’s Adult Attachment Typology Model.

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One item to note is that there is no way to build a meaningful relationship with everyone you work around. The goal is to allow you to build those relationships as they become available and in different degrees. There will be those that have a strong connection and create a strong sense of trust. Others will be of a lesser degree. This is a fact of any organization. The goal to makes any relationship as healthy as it can be.

A positive model of self, but a negative model of others is considered a dismissive typology. On the surface, it sounds a bit arrogant. It really has more to do with not having a high level of trust of others, so the focus is always what I can do or what I can accomplish. The deep-dark thoughts that come along with those thought patterns is “I might as well do it myself as someone else will just let me down.” It is not about having a perfectionist attitude, but simply havingthoughts that someone else cannot be trusted. I do believe that this stems from my INTJ tendencies. To see my point, go to Pinterest and type in INTJ. Hilarity ensues. INTJs are well known loners. I fit the mold a little too well.

This is not about me making excuses for what I am but more about the journey of self-discovery and working toward having a positive model of others. For me, creating that model was all about creating trust and building relationships in which trust can grow.

Early in my career, I made a name for myself as a safety cop. I took detailed notes of every encounter, every event that was out of compliance, times, locations, and even sometimes photos of items and behaviors. Why did I do this? I felt that simply approaching people and talking about safety would not yield any results. Sure photos and good notes can help create a strong case for change, but it cannot be the only tool of a safety professional. As you can imagine, this not help me build any relationships that were meaningful and did not help in bringing about sweeping positive safety changes in that workplace. I recognized that the employees feared me, supervisors loathed my reports, and management felt I was finger pointing. That was not the type of healthy work relationship that needed to be built.

In the safety world I have found two types of dismissive models. The first is just what was described above. Everyone is dismissed and not engaged because there is no trust. The other is the dismissive model in which someone does not listen to an idea because they already have the answer. It is common in the workplace where someone will get dictated an answer rather than having ideas free flowing and discovering the answers through a process. Others are dismissed because they are perceived as not as knowledgeable, experienced, intelligent, etc. In the medical world, this would be considered poor bedside manner. The doctor does not have to listen to your symptoms because he already knows what to do. Here is an article detailing some of those finding about physicians. It says that if doctors would spend 10-15 minutes with patients rather than 5 or less minutes, they could see reductions in malpractice claims. The physicians are seen as dismissive because they are not investing that time.

Both of these are unhealthy relationships.

In the first case of having trust issues that create that negative model of others, there are ways that can help. Since that is so near and dear to me, allow me to speak from personal experience. I had to first give trust to build trust. There has to come a point where little pieces of trust are given to others to see how they will treat it. I am not saying that I invite anyone to babysit my kids as a trust exercise. The point is that I had to learn to talk to people and make real connections to understand the how’s and why’s of the behaviors. In a safety cop mentality, someone without safety glasses is in trouble, period. With an integrated safety scope, it is important to learn why. Do they not fit? Was it an honest mistake of forgetting? Did they fog up? Are they scratched? Did the person simply choose to not wear them? Each answer is important but takes a level of trust and understanding. For safety cop, the answers do not matter only the fact there was non-compliance. The situation needed a remedy, but it had to be the right one. Without a meaningful relationship being built those questions do not have a method of fruition.

This change did not happen overnight. There was much introspection before I finally realized what I was doing and why it was not working. I had completely isolated myself and that was not a healthy relationship. I had a few supervisors and superintendents that I apologized to for putting them in an unfavorable spotlight. The next step that I had to do was to ask, “How can I help you make safety a success in your department?” I had to bestow a level of trust in those I worked with. I had to let them help me find the direction I needed to go. I spent more time gaining understanding of the methods and working with people to find the answer.

In the second case where physicians were used as the example, there is a simple trick that can drastically help in this area: Listening. Such a simple word and yet it is so hard to do. We are a culture of actions. Have you heard phrases such as “We’re not moving fast enough” “We need to see results” “We need to get this done now” and many other similar sayings? It is tough in those environments to take the time and effort to really listen to what is happening.

I had the pleasure of being able to participate in a leadership team building exercise years ago. The Industrial Psychologist told us a story of when he was in residency. His instructor asked him if he smoked a pipe. The gentleman indicated that he did not and asked why. His instructedor explained that each time he felt the need to speak, he should puff the pipe a couple times to refrain from speaking. He was not giving enough time for people to fully finish their thoughts. By giving himself a physical queue, he would develop a better sense of giving the moment a few more seconds to assure that all that needed to be said was spoken. I watched the way he worked after that story and noticed that he would put the tip of his pen on his chin. If no one continued to talk, he would interject some of his observations. He had a physical method of reminding himself to take time to really listen to the needs of his clients. The same should be said for building any type of meaningful work relationship. We should want to learn and listen more than we want to talk and explain.

The dismissing typology is a tough one to overcome as it does take serious introspection to see where the faults lie. By giving little bits of trust in key places, slowly there are relationships that start to form. Listening is also a key method of gaining trust. By listening to someone completely, there is an empathy that can be found in the situation or circumstance. That can lead to not interjecting solutions too soon or dismissing the other person’s opinion. Creating a positive model of others comes in two forms: listening to understand and giving little opportunities to let trust grow.

Why “TheSafetyDude”?

Many times people wonder how or why I settled on the moniker “TheSafetyDude.” It all started with my first true safety job. I was still fresh into the safety field and not sure if I would stay with it or try to find to find a job using my major rather than my minor. As in typical safety dude fashion, it was a pseudo-turnaround. Performance was not where it should be, and I was there to hopefully help improve the safety programs. Whether I knew it or not, this was a preview to where most of my career would take me (startups and turnarounds).

This was the early phase of my career where I did not really know how I wanted to manage being a safety professional. So, I had to learn by trial and error what would work and would not work. My early approach was to play the role of safety cop. I went around finding everything wrong and reporting about it publically. Looking back, this worked just as would now expect. It put some good supervisors in some bad places. It made it look like the front line supervisors were not managing the safety side of their business. One of the more outspoken of those supervisors coined the term safety dude.

“What’s up safety dude?”

“What are you going to find tonight, safety dude?”

“Do you think we need to install seat belts on the office chairs, safety dude?”

This bothered me fundamentally because I knew my process was ineffective in either making safety better or helping to education others in how to manage safety. Instead of making these comments into a moment to pick a fight, I used the opportunity to see where I was failing. I started working side-by-side with this supervisor. I would go to his pre-shift meetings and simply listen. I would talk to his team and understand their needs and obstacles. I started to see where I could use safety as an integrated benefit to his department. If they needed better PPE, I would try to find it. If they needed forklift training, I would provide it when they needed it. If they had a concern, I would be that voice to champion it. Instead of “safety dude” being a mocking term, it took on a tone of respectful camaraderie.

“Safety dude, come look at this issue.”

“Hey safety dude, let’s figure out how to fix this”

“What training can I provide to better help my team, safety dude?”

I have kept that nickname since as it reminds me of how I had to learn the hard way the right way to manage safety.