We’ve all been at a restaurant where the waiter forgets your special request and looks as though he’d rather be just about anywhere else in that moment. Then there’s the grocery store clerk who avoids eye contact and is annoyed with your coupons. Clearly these people don’t care, but is it possible we’re sending similar signals at work without realizing it?
"These days, we’re all so busy and just getting through the day can feel like enough," says Jon Gordon, author of The Carpenter (Wiley, 2014). "But anytime you’re stressed, you’re acting out of survival. Even the most well-meaning among us will come across as not caring."
Gordon learned how important caring is to success during the recession. He hired a carpenter to do some work in his house and asked him how he was holding up in the bad economy. "He told me he was having the best year yet," says Gordon. "I quickly realized it was because he was exceptional—he cared about his work. When someone puts more time, energy, and effort into their work, people notice."
The first step to showing more care is realizing the things you’re unknowingly doing that are sending the wrong message. Gordon shares 10 things that say "I don’t care," and the actions you can take to reverse the perception:
Sometimes no news is good news, but when it comes to working with others on projects, silence can send a bad signal.
"When you don’t proactively reach out to provide information and updates, people can assume the worst and it will seems as though you don’t care," says Gordon. The solution is simple: touch base often. Instead of forcing a colleague to ask if you’ve finished compiling those statistics, for example, send an email saying you’ve done so.
"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," says Gordon.
Inboxes are full and it’s easy to overlook responding. You may think a slow response isn’t a big deal, but the other person waiting for your answer probably does, says Gordon. Instead, get into the habit of responding to questions or requests within 24 to 48 hours.
"If you truly don’t have time to deal with the matter immediately, send a text or email saying, ‘I got your message and will touch base later,’" he says.
Ever zone out during a conversation or check your email while you’re talking to someone on the phone? You may think you’re being stealth, but the other person can almost always tell and it sends a message that they’re unimportant, says Gordon.
"Giving a client or colleague your full attention is so meaningful," he says. "Being fully present says, ‘I really care about you and what you need. You are my top priority right now.’"
While you might think it’s professional to keep personal matters out of your business relationships, Gordon says not inquiring about someone’s life can inadvertently paint you as a callous individual.
Ask what they’re doing over the weekend or if they have vacation plans, suggests Gordon. "It just takes five minutes or so to make a connection and then you can get down to business," he says
When you’re the owner or the manager of a company, it can be impossible to personally take care of every client, but don’t pass them off without letting them know or checking in from time to time.
"This is a big problem in a lot of businesses," says Gordon. "Engaging with people as individuals and not as transactions shows that you care."
If you know you’re going to need help from a coworker, don’t let a project sit on your desk right up until the deadline, says Gordon. This puts the stress burden on the other person, and makes them feel that you don’t respect their time.
"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 would like to receive."
When people don’t care, they fail to give a project the time and energy it deserves. Putting in a minimum amount of effort means you’re offering an inferior product or service, or guaranteeing that someone else will need to make improvements later.
"The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen," says Gordon. "When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out and people will clamor to work with you."
Missing deadlines often means taking time away from someone else down the line. Instead of creatively figuring out how to buy more time, do as much as you possibly can to stick to the agreed-upon schedule.
Litter in the parking lot, broken equipment, and a burnt out light bulb send subtle signals to employees and customers that you don’t care. While you don’t have to have the latest and greatest in technology, maintaining the assets you do have sends a clear signal that you care about your environment.
Acknowledging work well done demonstrates that you care, even if it is in someone’s job description.
"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," says 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."
[Image: Flickr user Fod Tzellos]