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Looking to Thrive? Five Ways to Keep Your Relationships on T.R.A.C.K
by JoAnna Brandi


I talked with an old friend the other day and had the chance to reminisce about a job we worked on together years ago. Because of some badly handled acquisitions where the cultures of the companies were not particularly considered before merging them together, this company had what we called "relationship issues."

When I think about relationships, I think in terms of the qualities necessary to keep them healthy. After all my years in business I'm now able to clearly see that by evaluating and improving even five relationship qualities an organization can make great strides towards good health. And, as luck would have it have, they form an acronym my clients are familiar with – T.R.A.C.K. It stands for Trust, Respect, Appreciation, Communication and Kindness. When all these qualities are practiced well, relationships thrive and prosper.

T stands for Trust

For a variety of reasons the client we were discussing had lost the trust of its people and trust is truly the kingpin when it comes to relationships. There is a high price for distrust. It destroys morale and productivity. It costs in so many ways -- poor performance, absenteeism, bad-mouthing to customers, politics, even theft. In low trust organizations, energy is often diverted from the job at hand to "CYA" activities, gossip, frustration and anger. The worst part, I think, is losing the employee's full engagement in the company's mission. A disengaged employee can't possibly engage and excite customers to come back.

It takes a long time to rebuild trust, it's a slow but cumulative process. It's about deliberately rebuilding an emotional bank account a little at a time. It's not for the faint of heart since it takes the discipline of scrutinizing your own actions and creating a safe enough environment where you can "call" people on theirs in such a way that they don't become defensive or shut down.

When it comes to rebuilding trust, it's important to let people know what is going on. This means good as well as bad news. This means news that reflects well and not well on the leadership team. It's a time to talk openly and honestly about the health and vitality of the company and the real challenges it faces and how you feel about it.

As my friend and I were talking I found myself jotting down some notes about the advice we gave to the leadership team back then. Here are some of the highlights of what we counseled them to do.

  1. Know that it's okay not to know all the answers right now. Leadership today is more about good questions than good answers.
  2. Communicate frequently about what you are doing as a leadership team to create a vision of the future - the big picture.
  3. Ask for input on the vision of the future and allow people to help create it.
  4. Connect the big picture to the changes you are making in their every day world. People want to know where they are going and they want to know why they do things and the contribution they make to the whole. (This is even more important today then it was when we gave this advice.)
  5. Avoid judgments, blame and criticisms. Listen actively. Be sincere. Learn from and admit your mistakes.
  6. Tell the truth, kindly, not "brutally."
  7. Give feedback that is specific and useful.
  8. Make good on promises, do what you say you are going to do.
  9. Be as consistent as you can be in your behavior.
  10. Put aside your self-interest for the good of the group. A person that is always self-serving is difficult to trust.
  11. Create an environment where people's feelings count. When a company values people's feelings, health, self-image, ideas or personal values, they feel safe. When people are not afraid of being put down or laughed at in front of others, they are more apt to share their ideas and thoughts. When someone believes his or her input is appreciated they are more apt to participate and contribute
  12. Actively encourage participation and reinforce it positively.

Perhaps the trust level in your company is already high - practicing this "daily dozen" will keep it that way. Perhaps the level of trust in your company is not quite where it needs to be, in that case, using these ideas as a practice will help you rebuild it over time. Trust is essential to healthy, happy relationships.

R stands for Respect.

It comes up in every discussion I have when I ask clients about what qualities are essential to relationships. Respect – we are all looking for it, but it’s hard to get our arms around.

That prompts some simple questions from me - so how does respect show up? What are the things you do to make sure your customers feel respected? What are the things you do to let your employees know you respect them? Can you measure respect? What does respect look like? What are the things you do here to build and support it? Are there any things that you do here that erode it?

Silence usually follows, for a short while. Since I'm a tad pushy and quite insistent about my questions we gradually break the ice and the conversations flows.

"I think it's disrespectful when meetings consistently start late.
"I think it's disrespectful when I have to listen to all those options on phone trees, it's a waste of my time."
"I hate when my boss doesn't look me in the eye when she speaks to me, it's disrespectful.
"I think it's disrespectful when the technician talks down to me."

An interesting thing occurs in some of the discussions I've had about respect. People have an easier time identifying when they don't feel respected than when they do.

That's okay, because what comes up we use as ‘contrast' and it's easy to flip that over and say "I feel respected when meetings start and end on time." Of course once the conversation is flowing, we are on our way to discovering how to improve this very important element of a relationship.

What I've learned is that people feel respected when they feel listened to, when they feel the other party intends to really understand what they are feeling. People feel respected when their concerns are taken into consideration, when their ideas are asked for and implemented. They feel respected when their privacy is valued and when they are acknowledged for a job well done.

People feel respected when we notice when they do things right, and if they do things wrong, those things are discussed in private and with out blame, shame or judgement. People feel respected when they are taken seriously, even if they are angry, and there is someone skillful in dealing with their anger or "upsetment." People feel respected when you return their phone calls and rsvp when asked to. People feel respected when you look them in the eye and connect with them. People feel respected when you are courteous and polite. People feel respected when you speak to them like professionals not children.

Respect is all about esteem and honor. Its Latin roots suggest that "respicere" really means to look again, or to look back at.

I suggest that you take another look at the level of respect that your organization accords to all the people you come in contact with - customers, co-workers and suppliers and look again how you might improve your level of respect and improve the strength of your relationship.

It's a great exercise for the whole team - and if you're brave you'll engage your customers and suppliers in the mix too. In a world that is becoming increasingly rude and abrasive you can be the organization that stands out by delivering a five-star level of respect to each and every person you come in contact with - each and every time. Now there's a competitive advantage!

A Stands for “Appreciation"

William James, the great American psychologist once said that the greatest of human needs is the need for appreciation. Wow - he was really on the right track with that one!

Whether we are talking about personal relationships or business relationships we all crave appreciation. We all want to know we are valued. We all want to know when we're doing a great job, and that what we do really matters. Appreciation celebrates the relationship and gives it the positive energy it needs to grow and thrive.

A few years ago I graduated from the Authentic Happiness Coaching program run by Dr. Martin Seligman, that makes me an “Authentic Happiness Coach,” and proud of it. Today I participate in a worldwide group of happiness coaches to understand how to create more positive workplaces and create the tools to teach our clients to do the same. As you might imagine, appreciation and gratitude come up often.

Over the past ten years or so there has been a lot of scientific research on the benefits of feeling gratitude and appreciation. Dr. Seligman and others in the field of Positive Psychology have proven that by using simple exercises in gratitude (making gratitude lists, sending a gratitude letter to someone that you wished you had said "thank you" to, writing down three good things that happened to you that day) on a regular basis, happiness goes up and depression goes down. Research proves that these tools often work better than therapy or drugs - and they're free!

The challenge we have is to convince people that something that takes very little time, costs nothing, and is available to everyone who chooses to use it regularly can actually work as well as it does. Trust me. It does.

Years ago I studied at the Institute for Heartmath in California. ( I went out there to study stress management and learned so much more. I learned that the heart, which is electrically more powerful in the body than the brain, has an intelligence all its own. I learned that the key to accessing the intelligence of the heart is through appreciation.

Simply shifting your attention from your head to your heart and remembering something that you deeply appreciate will, in only seconds, change the variability patterns of your heart and give you access to a deeper intelligence. The longer you can keep yourself in a state of appreciation, the longer you have access to that intelligence which they call "the little brain in the heart."

Here are a few simple yet powerful things you can DO to increase the level of heart felt appreciation at work.

  1. Start and/or end a meeting by asking each individual to express appreciation. (That could sound like, “Before we start, let’s all share something that happened since our last meeting that you are grateful for, or something you really appreciate.”)
  2. Make it a point to find someone doing something right, something in alignment with the organization's mission and tell them how much you appreciate that.
  3. Tell every customer you deal with that you sincerely appreciate their business - and mean it.
  4. Figure out what the lifetime value of the customer is to the company and share that number with all those who take care of the customers, so if they somehow can't appreciate them for who they are, perhaps they can appreciate them for what they are worth to the company. Some people need to see that light bulb go on before they get it.
  5. Send three handwritten cards a day expressing your appreciation to employees, customers and/or suppliers.
  6. Get a blessings book and list your blessings and the good things that happened that day and why in your special book. (I do this every night!)
  7. Make sure that your phone message sincerely thanks the person for calling.
  8. Learn to take short (delicious!) appreciation breathers throughout the day. I combine a healthy deep breath or two in my appreciation practice. It brings oxygen to my brain, clears out the cobwebs and really helps me remember or imagine something or some one I deeply appreciate. It takes less than a minute and feels like a mini-vacation. (Remember, the brain can't tell the difference between something that is vividly imagined and something that actually happened. So, when you go to your special place of appreciation, your body not knowing you are not really there, starts pumping out all the good chemicals and you make yourself healthier, happier and more resilient each time you do it. (You can read more about these kinds of practices in my book “54 Ways to Stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World”)
  9. Do good deeds. Psychologists are proving that when we do a good deed, when we practice generosity it makes us feel real good too - and the brain scientists can tell us that it "lights up" the pleasure centers in the brain. Get the whole team together and clean up the highway, the beach or build a house for someone less fortunate. Appreciate what you have.

C Stands for Communication

It's interesting to me that often when working with clients I hear "We have a communication problem." To which I customarily answer, "What about communication is the problem? Is there a problem with what to communicate, how it's communicated, how often it's communicated, or perhaps to whom something is communicated?"

Communication is a topic so wide and so vast there are entire degree programs devoted to its study - but for our purposes here let's look at some of the simple implications of using good communications in your organization.

Good communication begins even before someone is hired. When you are planning to bring someone new into your company - think "What about our company do we want to communicate to the applicant?" It's a good time to communicate the company's values, standards, vision and the expectations you'll have of the applicant if they are hired.

(Timing of that communication is important, so be sure to share that information towards the end of the interview, and not at the beginning. Why? When you say it up front it's a little too easy for the applicant to tell you exactly what you want to hear.)

Communicating expectations is critical for success, if I don't know what you want, how can I deliver it? I'm always shocked at how many managers think an employee "ought to know" what's expected of them without being told. (Sort of like how many people think their spouses ought to know.)

Communicating the company's mission and vision and the place an employee has in the larger scheme of things is key to aligning an organization and focusing energy. Especially today, people want to know how they make a difference to the success of the company. Leaders who make sure to let people know where they are relative to where they are going have a point of reference, a benchmark, for improvement.

Feedback is another form of communication that is essential to increasing performance. All too often in my career I've heard the lament "how come they never notice me when I'm doing something right, but they always notice if I've done something wrong." Ouch.

Practice finding your co-workers doing things right and give positive feedback three to five times more often that you give negative feedback. Communicating your pleasure as well as your displeasure will get you more of the behavior you really want.

Keep people in the loop, especially in times of rapid change. In the absence of real meaningful communication people practice MSU (Making Stuff Up) and that destroys productivity as people sort through the gossip looking for the truth. Oh yeah, and be sure you're telling the truth. In today's transparent world, you'll be found out quickly enough if you're not.

Draw a little communications map for your department - better yet for your company. Who needs to know what information, when, how often, and in what form? The older the company, the more chance that there is information produced that isn't being used by anyone anymore, but is still being produced by someone.

In today’s world we really need to learn the skill of communicating clearly, concisely and quickly. When I am running a meeting with a time frame, especially if it’s on the phone, I ask people to bring their “best edited self” to the meeting. That’s shorthand for when I want someone to think about what they are saying and edit it before it comes out of their mouth. We all love a good story, and there are times when the details are distracting to the work at hand. (It’s a skill I need to keep practicing myself, as you can see by my word count.)

And here’s one last thought (I could go on but I won’t): “open” communication is great, as long as it's done without blame or judgment.

Stop and really absorb that thought for a moment. If we all learned a style of “open” communication that left out any hint of blame or judgment, more people would listen and the world would be a nicer place.

K stands for “Kindness”

Speaking of a nicer place, I end the acronym with a Kindness. Kindness is a force. It’s a force so strong that the experience of kindness is felt not only in the person who is the recipient of a kind act, but also by the person who delivers it.

In the presence of kindness the body creates the biochemistry of well-being. Endorphins (the happy hormones) start pumping, immune cells start reproducing, the heart rate and blood pressure slow down and the “pleasure centers” in the brain light up – in both parties. If ever there was a win-win situation kindness is it.

That’s why I added “Kindness” to the end of my acronym for being on T.R.A.C.K. to healthy, happy and harmonious long-term relationships.

Although it’s not frequently mentioned when I ask the question, “What qualities of a relationship must be present for the relationship to thrive?” Kindness is a quality that I have experienced and observed for years in the behavior of those that are beloved by many and in relationships that thrive.

Kindness, a quality of the heart, makes the other four qualities shine. Kindness speaks of compassion and kinship and connects people in a special way.

But you’ve got to admit, Kindness usually gets the short shrift when it comes to the qualities we admire out loud. Kindness is not nearly valued as much these days as bravery, confidence, intelligence, leadership, or the ability to exceed the sales quota, but it should be.

Kindness touches the heart and warms the soul; it makes an experience memorable. It produces a glow, that when appreciated, can last for hours, and as mentioned above, even gives the immune system a boost.

It’s easy to produce, doesn’t need a special budget, has long lasting effects and doesn’t require technical training. Kindness wears many costumes. It can be simply dressed in a smile, a friendly gesture or a sweet tone of voice. It can be more elaborately clothed in the willingness to pitch in, stay late, clean up and help out when someone needs us.

Kindness helps relationships flourish. It helps them expand and grow. Yes, even in business. Kindness speaks of a mindfulness that is sorely needed in business today. How many places can you find to use kindness as a powerful tool for relationship building in your business?

Find five places to add a little kindness today, six tomorrow and seven the day after that. A practice of kindness will revolutionize your customer service (internally and externally) buffer the effects of a harsh world, and benefit your health and the health of others. Kindness researchers are finding that people who are the recipient of a kind act are more likely to pass that kindness along to another immediately afterward.

Is Your Company on TRACK for Relationship Success?

You now have my whole “on T.R.A.C.K.” formula to work with in your company. Start asking questions about where your company culture supports these important five qualities and where your practices or policies or even your beliefs might erode them. Every company I’ve ever worked with discovers something worth improving. Remember, if you’re not getting better, you cease being good.

P.S. Want to know more about your culture? Play a game. Here’s a great way to take an innovative look at some of the forces operating in your culture. Easy, inexpensive and FUN! Here is a link to our leadership game -


The Author

JoAnna Brandi

JoAnna Brandi is the Publisher of the Customer Care Coach® leadership program. She is the author of three books: "Winning at Customer Retention, 101 Ways to Keep 'em Happy, Keep 'em Loyal, and Keep 'em Coming Back" "Building Customer Loyalty - 21 Essential Elements in ACTION" and "54 Ways to stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World" JoAnna is an accomplished public speaker and a contributing author to numerous business publications. Her work in customer loyalty has been cited in Fortune Magazine, Sales and Marketing Magazine, The Executive Report on Customer Retention, US Banker, the Retail Advantage, The Kiplinger Letter, The Competitive Advantage and dozens of others.

You can subscribe to her bi-weekly Customer Care Tip for free and find more of her work at and .

Many more articles in The Customer Care Coach and Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2007 by JoAnna Brandi. All rights reserved.

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