4 Steps To Develop Your Workplace Culture Skills


Janine Yancey



Have you ever been angry at your co-workers? Or vented to friends and family about workplace situations? Or perhaps you found out that co-workers were bummed out because of you? If so, it could be that you need to develop your workplace culture skills.

What are workplace culture skills, exactly? They are the skills that help you navigate co-worker interactions with patience, perspective, and respect and in a way that exhibits the values of your workplace. And like any other career skill, they take time, practice, and intention to develop them. But the payoff is a team that has developed their workplace culture skills is more likely to make ethical decisions and create a workplace that engages their employees.

Workplaces where the leadership team doesn’t take the time to develop these critical skills, on the other hand, may find themselves home to a high proportion of the 85% of employees worldwide who are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. And in case you’re thinking disengagement isn’t a big deal, it is estimated that disengagement leads to $7 trillion annually in lost productivity.

Now that you’ve seen the benefit to developing your workplace culture skills, here are four concrete steps you can take right now to develop them.

1. Learn Your Company Culture.
Progressive organizations intentionally create a workplace culture that reflects specific values and meets business goals. For example, Netflix and Indiegogo have both created cultures of candor and authenticity where employees expect their co-workers to address issues directly and sometimes, with startling candor.  We hosted leaders from both organizations to share more about their unique approach to workplace culture at a recent event. You can hear their perspectives in the video from the conversation, below.

In cultures like theirs, people need to get used to hearing colleagues speak bluntly. Similarly, Medallia has created a culture where employees are expected to provide feedback on each part of their workplace experience—a type of employee net promoter score for the workplace. Again, without knowing this, someone could be caught off guard when their co-workers regularly give feedback on any and all people operations.

Most workplaces have a specific culture, whether it’s intentional or not.  Take the initiative and learn about your workplace culture from leaders and other employees. Learn the preferred communication style, meeting protocol, preferred method to share concerns and circulate ideas, how to effectively make suggestions, etc. Knowing the workplace culture will help inform and guide your actions.

2 .Know Your Co-Workers.
Knowing and understanding how your co-workers are wired is a big part of interacting with minimal friction in the workplace. It also tends to make you more engaged in your work—that’s why the Gallup employee engagement survey asks if you have a best friend at work. While that terminology may be eye-roll-inducing for some of us, it gets to the core issue of the importance of having a trusted confidant and feeling a part of your workplace.

Make an effort, spend the time and get to know your co-workers and how they differ.  Some of us have thick skins; some have thin skins. Some like direct communication. Some people need more gentle, indirect messages. Learning about your co-workers and their personal likes and dislikes is absolutely essential to interacting with them in a productive way.

3. Engage and Dialog.
Information is the key to understanding, and the more you dialog with co-workers and flesh out their views on a variety of topics, the more you can tailor your actions to what works for them. Similar to the philosophy of Ken Blanchard’s The Servant Leader, you can serve up the types of actions your co-workers want if you flesh out their views. This effort includes learning how to shift your perspective and see a situation from your co-worker’s perspective. Understanding your co-workers’ different perspectives on work situations will help you navigate those situations in a much easier fashion.

4. Analyze.
Teams and companies should be soliciting anonymous information and feedback from employees on a regular basis about both their concerns and what they value. The feedback from these efforts shouldn’t just be shared with the leadership. It’s important that individuals on teams also have access to these insights so they too can take note and do more of what people value and do less of what causes people concern.

Obtaining employee feedback doesn’t have to be a complicated or expensive undertaking. People managers can also anonymously survey their own teams using an easy solution like Google forms, and ask questions to better understand how people are experiencing the workplace—both the positives and the negatives. The resulting information will provide visibility and allow managers to get a finger on the pulse of any trending issues and concerns on the team.

Yes, I know these four steps seem to be pretty easy to do and based on common sense. But how often do any of us consciously and intentionally take these steps to develop our workplace culture skills? Let’s stop being reactive to people and situations and instead, be proactive and deliberate. Follow these four steps and you’ll develop strong workplace culture skills that will help you minimize frustrating days and increase your positive co-worker interactions!


Janine Yancey

Emtrain founder and CEO Janine Yancey has been certified by both Federal and California courts as an expert in harassment training and investigations—she’s provided expert testimony on both topics. As a harassment investigator, Janine investigated allegations of harassment and misconduct within former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s office. Prior to the passing of the AB 1825 harassment training regulations, Janine successfully defended the City of Roseville in a five-week harassment jury trial and used the City’s harassment training efforts to help persuade the jury to return a verdict for the City. Janine has served as employment law counsel to many Bay Area technology companies, including Google. She also authored The HR Handbook to help young technology companies successfully navigate workplace laws.

‘Tis the Season for Workplace Drama...But It Doesn’t Have to Be!

Read More >>

How to Develop Our Workplace Respect Skill

Read More >>

Developing Our Culture Competency

Read More >>