Your role in maintaining a professional, respectful work environment

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- Another great summer is in full swing. As we enjoy the beautiful months of August, September and then the fall season thereafter, it is a good time to reflect on relationships that are important in our life; not just close family members but those with whom we interact with on a regular basis.

Friends and co-workers are good examples of people that we maintain relationships with outside of our families. Are these relationships healthy and productive or do they represent day-to-day challenges? While we can move in and out of friendships on rather short notice, workplace relationships, good or bad, are often long-term by their very nature. This article targets professional relationships with a focus on communication.

Almost everyone encounters a person at work that they have not had, or do not have, a positive experience with. Disagreements with coworkers can make time spent at work difficult, while disagreements with supervisors or others who have a direct impact on our careers can make our work situation seem unbearable. Whether coworker, supervisor or any member within the hierarchy of the organization, we all have a role to serve in maintaining a professional and respectful working environment; primarily through the relationships that we develop with each other. A good place to start is with the mechanics of healthy communication I described in June's Refueler article.

When communicating with each other there is no replacement for the basics such as listening carefully. Paying close attention to the message we are receiving in terms of words used and body language expressed is an excellent way to establish meaning. Remember that body language makes up over 90 percent of the message we are sending or receiving, so even if you are accurately hearing the message, your body might be showing something completely different such as disinterest, disengagement or a desire to be elsewhere.

Giving your complete attention to someone while they are speaking demonstrates a desire to understand what they are saying and reflects openness to them even in moments of disagreement. Impasses often develop when one or both people engaged in a conversation are unwilling to gain the most basic appreciation of what the other person is saying. Paying attention to each other reflects a willingness to work together which is fundamental to solving differences.

Whether supervisee or supervisor, enlisted or officer, paying attention to each other while communicating is a sign of mutual respect which should be at the core of every interpersonal relationship. Within the military culture respect figures prominently within the Core Values that Airman aspire to live by. Specifically, within the core value of Service Before Self it is written: "We must always act in the certain knowledge that all persons possess a fundamental worth as human beings." When we strive to understand one another we are honoring this value through our respectful behavior, and thus charting a direct course to improved, mutually satisfying relationships.

Last but certainly not least, remember to smile. A smile is a very powerful form of non-verbal communication. A smile lowers tension, invites warmth and fosters healthy communication. Smiling is healthy for both the sender and the receiver. A little smile goes a long way!

In next month's article the focus will shift to working through impasse in professional relationships.