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Get Out of Autopilot and Hit Refresh

Don't just go through the motions – Engage


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We regularly refresh our memories, our screens, our drinks … Too often we let our relationships drift into autopilot, especially our closest ones. This is the time of year we start thinking about what we’ll do better to improve our lives next year. Lose 10 pounds and get more exercise are at the top of many lists. But you’ll probably get greater fulfillment and longer term results by refreshing how you engage with others.

Creating meaningful engagement looks about the same at work and at home so you’ll get double the value with about the same effort.

The biggest hurdle?

Making time.

In thinking about where relationships fall in your priority list, think about the old saying that goes something like this: “Take time for the little things in life because in retrospect, we realize that they were the big things.”

Employee engagement has been a hot topic in business for several years now, ever since it was discovered that high levels of engagement lead to reduced turnover, higher productivity, and increased profitability. Despite the benefits, Gallup’s 2017 research shows that roughly 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged. The reason? Workplaces are going through extraordinary change, but management is frozen in a 30-year time warp.

It’s hard to measure engagement in families, but it’s easy to see that personal relationships aren’t much better than those at work. Rather than being separated by a time warp, we’ve probably gone too far in embracing 21st Century technology. You have only to sit in a restaurant anywhere in the country to see that parents and children, lovers, and friends are typically more interested in their devices than each other.

Whether you’re talking business or personal engagement; bosses, parents, or friends; communication is at the heart of your connection. In virtually every situation, we humans respond best to people who are:

  • Approachable and willing to be vulnerable
  • Focused on our strengths, not weaknesses
  • Interested, without being too involved or uninvolved
  • Optimistic in outlook
  • Authentic
  • Empathic
  • Aligned in what they think, say, and do

In reflecting on how you engage with others, whether your relationship is professional or personal, focus on how and what you communicate. How often do you ask questions and probe to truly understand how others are feeling? Do you encourage others to take a risk now and then, and resist the urge to judge if they fail? Are you open to giving and receiving thoughtful feedback? Do you make sure to give people your full attention when listening?

The reality is we’re first and foremost “all about me.” It makes us feel respected and valued, and just plain good all over, when someone takes a genuine interest in what we’re thinking and doing, whether we’re a kid or an adult. When we communicate as we would like to be communicated with, we’re creating a mutual sense of trust and wellbeing, which are the building blocks of high engagement and a full and more satisfying life. Your goal is “not to strive to make your presence noticed, but to make your absence felt,” as an anonymous someone once said.

Before the holiday gatherings and festivities, make the time to move away from autopilot and take a fresh look at how you engage with the people you most care about. Spread a little more joy this year, and put that goal at the top of your New Year’s resolutions.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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