Traditionally, organizations have been focused on getting results from people, collecting on deliverables and measuring success by contributions to the bottom line. In these organizations, employee/employer relationships tend to be transactional as work is directed and controlled by management. In the new world of work, collaborative organizations foster more positive, productive relationships that empower individuals through shared accountability. In these organizations, there is a higher likelihood of successful outcomes because trust is created – if I trust you, I’m going to give more and you’ll be successful, too.

In a recent #SmartTalkHR webinar, I discussed the elements of building healthier work environments. You can view the webinar in its entirety here. The following are some excerpts from that webinar.

From the webinar, here are 5 keys to building healthier work environments:

#1 Effective communication - listening

Collaborative environments establish trust when they allow for ideas to be shared freely and when differences of opinion are viewed as opportunities. Building a collaborative environment is achieved through transparent communication, which starts with listening.  Celeste Headlee has a TED talk about the 10 ways to have a better conversation by listening. She has 10 basic rules around how to be an effective listener and I shared a few during my webinar, including:

Building a collaborative environment is achieved through transparent communication, which starts with listening. via @Katiebsmith #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

Don't multitask: Be in the moment. Don't be thinking about something else when you're listening.

Don't pontificate. Don't express your opinion in a way that's annoying or boastful. When you're engaged in a conversation and you're the listener, practice listening. Assume you have something to learn. Everyone is an expert in something. How different would your conversations be if you went in with the attitude that the individual you’re talking to is an expert in something and you’re going to learn something? To be a good listener, start your sentences with who, what, when, where, and how. Be curious and go with the flow of the conversation instead of trying to control it
Stay in the conversation. When you’re a part of a conversation, you may experience thoughts coming in and out. "Oh, I can totally relate to what they're saying,” or “I had an experience like that.” Don't listen to those thoughts. They stop you from listening. Practice actually listening by always bringing back your point of concentration to that individual and to what is being said. Your goal in any conversation is to understand what the other person is saying. If you don't know what they're talking about or what they're asking about, say you don't know it. Be authentic, be honest, and be transparent. It creates more engagement. 
Don't equate your experience with theirs. All experiences are individual, and it is not about you. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity. How many times have you been in a conversation where someone's talking about something and you say, "I had a similar thing happen to me?” You automatically put the attention on you. When you're listening, it's really about listening to them and their story and finding out more about their situation. 
Try not to repeat yourself. It is condescending. Stay out of the weeds. People don't care about the details. They care about you and what you are like. Now, of course, that's going to depend on the conversation you're having. However, you want to be curious, you want to be clear, and you don't want to get caught in details. Listen more than you talk. Listening is the number one skill you can develop. No one ever listens their way out of a job.

Bring your full presence to the conversation. Listening strengthens your emotional intelligence. By learning to listen to our deeper insight and be curious with ourselves, we can begin to practice being curious with the other person and really learn to listen deeply. When you listen deeply, the other person automatically feels valued and acknowledged. Listening is a form of acknowledgement and an opportunity to strengthen your presence in how you lead and acknowledge yourself, your team, and your work.

Key reminders around listening:

  • Keep your mouth closed
  • Keep your mind open,
  • Don't get caught in your thoughts or your judgment
  • Be prepared to be amazed

#2 Be curious

An important part of building a collaborative environment is being curious. When you engage in a conversation, it's really wonderful to always start with acknowledgement. Begin by acknowledging certain wins or acknowledging the other person taking the time to have the conversation. When you start with acknowledgement, it automatically creates safety and trust. Acknowledgement is like a love balm. It helps people relax. It helps them put down any barriers they may have. We can either come into a conversation based in fear or based in love. By choosing acknowledgement and love, you automatically create less stress for everyone and achieve immediate engagement.
There's a way to have a conversation where we don't agree and we still don’t become angry. Remember, be curious and remember to allow for silence, because this creates space for the other person to think through and come up with their own solutions. With all the deluge of information we have at our fingertips day in and day out, we've lost the ability to create space to just think. It's really important to create space in our conversations.

With all the deluge of information we have at our fingertips day in and day out, we've lost the ability to create space to just think. via @Katiebsmith #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

When you tell or advise, you're not empowering the other person to think for themselves. Conversely, when you're curious, you're actually engaging others in the solution. And it can be done in a team conversation or one-on-one conversation. Curiosity results in making others feel valued and heard.

Related content: 5 Practical Ways to Stay Positive, Even at Work


#3 Use the GROW model

Key questions create accountability in conversations. One really good coaching model is the G-R-O-W model. It’s a great way to help people work through challenges and empower them to find their own solutions.

  • Goal - What is the goal?
  • Reality - What's the reality of the situation?
  • Options- What are the options?
  • Way forward - What's the desired action? 

Once you’ve been through the exercise, there are some key questions you can add to dig a little deeper.

  1. What might get in the way of taking the action?
  2. What will you do if it does?
  3. What are you walking away with out of this conversation?
  4. What support do you need from me?

By asking these questions, you're not figuring it out, you're not advising and telling, you're strictly asking the questions to empower others to come up with their own solutions and to take action and ownership.

#4 Strengthen your emotional intelligence

We wear our overstimulation like a badge of honor even though it works against us, making us less effective and more stressed. Mindfulness is about putting down our juggling balls and embracing the art of monotasking to become more effective and productive.

Related content: Emotional Intelligence: A Top-Ranked Skill for Employees


Through mindfulness meditation, we're learning how to respond rather than react, and we're increasing our emotional intelligence in the process. Mindfulness meditation is simply a practice of self-awareness. The technique involves paying attention to your breath, noting when your mind is wandering, and gently returning your attention back to your breath. Basically, it trains your brain and you to observe what's happening to your emotions rather than getting swept away by them.
There have actually been brain studies that show that when you're angry, the amygdala -- the part of your brain that processes emotions -- triggers the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Recognizing your true state makes you calmer and saves you from saying something you'll regret later. Taking a deep breath puts a break on the brain. It slows down our stress response, so we have time to make a more conscious choice versus reacting.

Long, deep breathing massages all the inner organs. It restores the proper pH balance to the blood. It calms the nervous system, and it clears the mind. The longer and slower the breath, the calmer your mind will be.

Here are some elements of mindfulness:

  1. Recognize and acknowledging your own feeling
  2. Name the feeling
  3. Communicate what you're feeling
  4. Take a pause
  5. Take a few breaths
  6. Repeat a calming phrase
  7. Take a walk
  8. Move your body
  9. Give yourself time to calm down

Moving your body gets you out of your head where the fear lives and the reaction lives and into your body and your heart where your intuition lives. Once you pause and you begin to take a break and move your body, you shift your thinking, and this supports you in making a choice that's more productive.

#5 Create an environment of self-care

Developing positive workplace initiatives like mindfulness meditation training, a quiet meditation room, in-house massage, and onsite coaching, supports individuals in growing into more productive and happier employees. Your way of being, the words and the tone in which you communicate, and how you listen impacts your presence and affects how you're acknowledging other people. So that's why I say acknowledgement is a love balm. If we can just move to acknowledgement instead of judgment, instead of fear, instead of negative self-talk, we can grow self-care, which supports us all in feeling valued and engaged.

Creating an environment of support and self-care doesn’t just impact your work environment, you're impacting the lives of those you work with in a positive way. It impacts not only them but their kids, their partners, and everyone they interact with. The ripple effect is huge and it's so needed right now.

The ability to bring in collaborative practices, to bring in curiosity, to bring in deep listening, and to bring in space for people to take ownership and share their ideas, these are all really nurturing way to create a supportive collaborative environment.

Here are a few ideas to get started creating a healthier work environment:

No gossip zones. Create signs that say no gossip zones and start a culture that doesn’t accept it. I know companies who have signs around the water coolers where gossiping is not allowed. In addition to signs, make an effort to stop gossip by training individuals about what to do when somebody does start gossiping. Share some practices to manage those conversations effectively and move them in a positive direction.

Encourage play and exercise. Have games in the lunchroom where people can actually engage with each other with play and have a sense of fun. Creating walking groups at lunch to get exercise and get out in the fresh air. Institute walking meetings.

Include self-care goals on your performance reviews. How are employees taking care of their stress levels? How stressed are they on a scale of 1 to 10? What do they do to de-stress? What are some options for reducing stress? What are some practices your organization could bring in to help de-stress the employees? Ask your employees what would help them destress. Acknowledge employees who go all out on self-care. Have contests on self-care.

Self-care can be different for everybody, and may include:

  • A day at the spa
  • A massage
  • A hot lavender bath
  • Sitting on a park bench and reading
  • Having time to just think
  • Having a quiet time and space to sit with no technology present

Self-care includes anything that gives you pleasure and relaxes you, moving you deeper into yourself. From there you can move through your life and into your work in a relaxed, neutral space where clear ideas come, where creativity is stimulated, and where inclusiveness is welcomed. 

Choosing to build a thriving collaborative culture takes mindfulness, it takes time, and it takes patience. In the end, it's going help you in communicating with your team, with your employees, with your leaders, and it's going to provide the space to actually coach and empower others. Building collaborative environments takes more time on the front end than on the back end, but what you experience after the fact are much quicker results and employees that feel valued. By building more effective ways of communicating, you foster trust, safety, and authenticity. This is what opens up possibilities and creativity to approach even the toughest challenges.

To hear more about building healthy work environments, watch the webinar in its entirety here.


Katie B. Smith is a RiseSmart Certified Career Coach. Katie holds her Advanced Corporate Coaching certification from Coach U and a Professional Coach Certification (PCC) through the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Katie believes that seeking to uncover and align with our authentic selves is vital to our becoming the best leaders we can be. And her clients often comment on her unique ability to help them identify tangible goals with personal and professional meaning, allowing them to experience more freedom, higher income, greater business results, and greater peace of mind.

27 June 2018

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