You care deeply about your clients, employees and coworkers. Of course you do. But if you’re like most people in the workplace (be they leaders, front line workers or someone in the vast middle ground in between), you may occasionally do (or not do) things that send the wrong signal. And that signal is, “I don’t care.” This accidental carelessness is not surprising, says Jon Gordon.
“We’re all so busy these days,” says Gordon, author of The Energy Bus, The No Complaining Rule, and his latest book, The Carpenter. “In fact, we’re overwhelmed. And when we’re trying to survive, sometimes even the most well-meaning among us don’t realize how we’re coming across.”
The good news is that the more you care (and show you do), the more you stand out in a world where many don’t. Caring is great for business. The even better news is that by making, say, one percent more effort and paying attention to the little things, you can transform your relationships and see your overall success skyrocket.
First, of course, you need to know what you’re unknowingly doing wrong. Here, Gordon shines a spotlight on 17 things that say to others, “I don’t care”—and he offers advice on how you can reverse that perception.
You fail to touch base on projects. Sure, you’re busy, and sure, teammates and clients can always call you if they need an update. The problem is, says Gordon, that when people don’t hear from you they naturally assume the worst: “I just know he hasn’t done what he said he’d do.” Or, “I bet she’s only doing the bare minimum.” When you don’t proactively reach out to provide information and updates, it seems as though you don’t care about others’ concerns.
“The solution is simple: touch base often,” says Gordon. “Don’t force your colleague to ask if you’ve finished compiling those statistics, for instance; send an email saying you’ve done so. Actually, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of sending daily or weekly updates not only to team members, but to clients, too.”
You wait too long to respond to calls or emails. (And sometimes you don’t respond at all.) Often, hours or days pass before you reply to a colleague’s or client’s questions. (Hey, you have about 200 more important things on your to-do list!) And sometimes, enough time passes that responding completely slips your mind.
“You may not think a slow response is a big deal, but the other person probably does,” notes Gordon. “Even if you truly don’t have time to deal with the matter immediately, it’s easy enough to send a text or email saying, ‘I got your message and will touch base later.’ Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight.”
You forget customer preferences. Part of providing good service is remembering that Mr. Smith dislikes being called on his cell phone after 6:00 p.m. and that Mrs. Jones always wants to work with a specific vendor.
“When you don’t keep records of these things, customers will conclude that they don’t matter to you,” notes Gordon. “Keep a file on each client, and take a few moments to record their preferences after each interaction.”
You nickel and dime them. Yes, you and your customers know that your relationship is based on an exchange of money for goods or services. And of course you shouldn’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. But obsessively keeping track of every minute and every coin doesn’t sit well with clients. It makes them think your first priority is not taking care of them, but rather getting everything that’s owed to you.
“Try to balance the bills you send against the long-term value of your client relationships,” advises Gordon. “For instance, if you spend an extra hour or two outside your contract, consider not itemizing that time on your next bill. The customer will likely sing your praises and send you plenty of referrals.”
You “hand off” customers to an employee and never personally contact them again. Sure, if you’re the owner of the company or the leader of a team, you can’t personally take care of every single client’s needs. But you can call or email each of them from time to time to let them know they’re still getting your attention. This is especially important if you conducted the initial meetings or signed a contract with a certain client.
“In my business, I make it a priority to respond personally to readers who ask me questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter,” Gordon shares. “While I could hand these tasks off to members of my staff, I truly do appreciate that readers care enough to take the time to contact me—and by engaging with them individually, I am showing them that I care, too.”
You wait till the last minute to ask for what you need. Say a project has been on your desk for a week, but you don’t ask your subordinate to make revisions until a few hours before the deadline. This puts the stress burden on the other person, and it makes him feel that you don’t respect his time. (It doesn’t do your in-office reputation any favors, either.)
“When a project requires a group effort and you’re a part of that group, never forget that your time management should take into account their time, too,” says Gordon. “Show others the consideration you yourself would like to receive.”
You rush through projects and leave loose ends. In The Carpenter, Gordon writes, “The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen. When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out, and people will clamor to work with you.”
“When you put forth the least amount of effort and do only the bare minimum, someone else will have to come behind you and make improvements—that, or you’ll have provided an inferior product,” Gordon notes. “Both tell people that you don’t care enough to do the job right.”
You miss deadlines. We all know that missing deadlines is a bad thing, yet many of us persist in (often creatively) figuring out how to buy more time for ourselves. Every once in a rare while an extension may be necessary—say, if too little time was initially provided to do a good job or if an emergency pops up in the middle of the project. Usually, though, the extra time you spend gets taken away from someone further down the line.
“Missing deadlines is another way of conveying to others that you don’t respect their time,” comments Gordon. “Do as much as you possibly can to stick to the agreed-upon schedule.”
You stress people out right before vacation. Leaders and supervisors, take note: An employee’s upcoming vacation shouldn’t give you license to demand Herculean feats from her right before her absence. You know she needs to pack, board the dog, and (ideally) get a restful night’s sleep before hitting the road or flying the friendly skies. Making her work till 8:00 p.m. the night before she departs shouts, “Work is more important than your family time!”
“Vacations should be something your people look forward to, not something they semi-dread because they know the days leading up to a getaway will be horrendous,” comments Gordon. “Part of being a caring leader is planning ahead with each employee to ensure that essential tasks are completed without last-minute hassle and headaches.”
You neglect to say, “Thank you,” or, “Great job.” Even if someone is “just” doing what’s in his job description, and especially if he has gone above and beyond to help you, take a few moments to verbalize your appreciation.
“Often, we don’t express gratitude not because we aren’t thankful, but because we’re busy or have already shifted our focus to the next thing; however, the other person doesn’t know that,” observes Gordon. “Saying ‘thanks’ takes only a few seconds of your time, but can do wonders for your professional relationships. When people feel valued, noticed, and appreciated, they’ll be motivated to do better work. It’s that simple.”
You don’t take care of the “little things” that make work flow smoothly. Broken equipment, outdated computer programs, no coffee cups, burnt-out light bulbs, even office furniture that’s seen better days—all of these things send employees a message about how much you don’t care about their comfort.
“Your employees get that you don’t have the resources to provide expensive, cutting-edge gadgets and an in-office spa,” observes Gordon. “But when you fail to provide basics that are within the budget, especially when it’s clear that you and other leaders aren’t going without, you’ll cultivate a ‘haves vs. have-nots’ attitude that fosters disengagement.”
You listen with half an ear. You know how this goes: You make the appropriate noises during a client call (“Mmhmm…I understand…No, that won’t be a problem…”) while simultaneously typing an email to someone else. You may think you’re getting away with multitasking, but Gordon says the other person can usually tell that your attention is divided, and will feel unimportant as a result.
“Giving a client or colleague your full attention is so meaningful,” he points out.
“Being fully present says, ‘I really care about you and what you need. You are my top priority right now.’”
You’re curt or disrespectful with people. Everyone has feelings. Take care not to bruise them. Even during disagreements or when negative feedback needs to be shared, there is usually a way to say what you need to say without crossing the line and hurting someone.
“In my experience, most people don’t mean to be hurtful,” observes Gordon. “Rather, their tone reflects their own high stress levels, or their blunt speech is a product of their attention being focused elsewhere. This is why it’s so important to be fully present when you’re interacting with someone else: you’re more able to consider your words and gauge the impact they are having.”
You gossip or make snarky comments behind people’s backs. You may think, “Well, she’s not here so it’s okay,” or, “Everyone gossips at the water cooler,” or even, “He deserves to be taken down a peg!” Wrong. Uncaring words have a way of getting back to the other person—and even if they never do, they cause the people with whom you’re speaking not to trust you.
“Tempting as it may be sometimes, make it your policy not to say bad things about your coworkers when you’re on the clock,” instructs Gordon. “If you simply must vent, wait until you can do so outside of work with a family member or friend.”
You neglect to ask about things going on in their personal lives. Whether you’re interacting with a colleague or a client, you may think that keeping the conversation focused on business is a sign of professionalism. But actually, says Gordon, it can paint you as a rather callous individual—especially if the other person is going through a difficult time.
“Ask others what’s going on in their personal lives, and follow up,” recommends Gordon. “Express your sympathy when a client’s parent passes away, and your willingness to help when a colleague is dealing with a health crisis. It’s so easy to spend five minutes making these connections before getting down to business—and it means so much.”
You hijack people’s stories. In the course of conversational “give and take,” it’s fine to share when you have a related story. But resist the temptation to make everything all about you. When you forcibly take the reins and steer a conversation in the direction you want it to go, you send others the message that you don’t care about or value what they have to say.
“Nobody appreciates ‘that person’ who always manages to turn the spotlight on himself or herself,” notes Gordon. “In general, it’s wise to listen more than you speak. Not only will you learn a lot through listening and observation; when you do contribute, others will be more receptive to hearing what you have to say.”
You ignore important milestones in people’s lives. It only takes a few seconds to say, “Happy Birthday,” or, “Happy Anniversary.” And while you can’t always attend every colleague’s child’s birthday party or every client’s retirement party, go (or a least send a card) if you possibly can.
“Your presence means a lot,” confirms Gordon. “People are surprised and pleased when you acknowledge important milestones in their lives—precisely because the assumption today is that most people don’t care about what’s going on outside their own bubbles.”
“Most people don’t intend to be uncaring or inconsiderate,” concludes Gordon. “Actually, I believe that the busy, stressful nature of modern life forces us to spend too much time looking out for number one and too little time looking out for others. We need to make a conscious effort to reverse that behavior.
“So take a few moments and evaluate your behavior and habits,” he adds. “What messages are they sending? What small changes can you make to show others that you care? I promise, the effort you put forth will energize you and others, and will lead to mutual success.”