Putting R Before T – It’s How S**t Gets Done

January 2, 2016 · by Michele Berry · Filed Under Blogposts on Leading Staff, Choices, Previous · Leave a Comment


You are juggling your “usual” workday, which seems more and more hectic. The only way to get through everything seems to be with back-to-back meetings. Your head is down, your neck is tight, and you disengaged hours ago. You blindly hurry into a conference room to meet with Mario.

He greets you with a genuine smile, a warm handshake, and he looks right into your eyes and asks, with sincerity, “How are you?”

Your shoulder tension melts a bit as you accept Mario’s invitation to give him a real reply. Its 3:30 pm and you realize he is the first colleague of the day to check-in with you on a personal level. You share that you just got back from a successful work trip, your child is starting a new school and you a bit worried because she hates change. You remember that Mario also has kids, and you connect about being working parents. The result is an exchange that is interesting and meaningful, and short! It takes less than five minutes.

The discussion shifts to your project. It flows. You are in touch with what motivates you about the work and find collaborating with Mario easy and fun. You are generous. So is Mario. You have perspective. So does he. The results of your meeting are better than either of you expected.

Mario has mastered R before T and so can you.

Putting Relationships before Tasks

There is a distinction we know and feel between rote inquiry and seeking to make a genuine connection.  You aren’t winning any points with insincere small talk or an all-business veneer. Reflect for a moment on how motivated and productive you are when you feel like a pair-of-hands.  Now think about your attitude toward work when you feel a sense of trust and connection.

Putting R before T makes sense.  We know it works.  But we are fighting some powerful myths.

Debunking the Myths

The myths are that genuine connection takes too long, seems insincere, makes you too vulnerable, gets in the way of holding people accountable and is somehow inappropriate. Here’s the truth:

  • There is minimal time investment: it doesn’t take very much time, what it does require is your full attention.
  • You can self-disclose within limits, maintain boundaries on what to share AND still give people some insight into YOU.
  • Strong relationships create greater accountability. Contrary to the myth, you are in a better position to challenge someone to meet their goals if you have invested in them as a person.

3 Ways to Improve at “R before T” right away

There are people for whom this is a “no-brainer”, literally. Natural connectors automatically check-in with people as people first. For others, it is a learned skill.  We’re glad to share that there is plenty of evidence that anyone at any age can improve this with practice.  Want to improve right away?  Here are three suggested resources – 2 fast reads and a quick listen:

  1.  Memorize the mantra:  “Touch the heart before asking for a hand”.  This is one of John Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable laws of leadership, and is the basis for this Teddy Roosevelt pearl:  “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  
  1.  Smile, and mean it.  This advice comes from “Connect, then lead.”  This is the title of a Harvard Business Review article that talks about the importance of projecting both warmth and strength as a leader.  Non-verbal cues can be enough sometimes to show someone you are connected and care about them and not just their work.
  1. Create informal social space.  Structure in the time and the physical space for people to connect informally.  This includes “check ins” at the beginning of meetings, bag lunches, and annual retreats.  Find out more in  Social is the new Superpower,”  a TED talk from Matt Lieberman wrote the book “Social”.


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