Cuba-born Peter Nodal always felt a pull towards island living. At the age of five he immigrated to South Florida with his family. He studied marketing at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida, and borrowed money from his father to open a record store, leading to a career as a DJ. “I always felt comfortable around large volumes of people,” he says, which made the transition to shipboard life very easy.

His first contract onboard a cruise ship was as a purser on Carnival Cruise Lines followed by jobs on two other now defunct lines, then he rose through the ranks on Royal Caribbean International ships to become a hotel director. Nodal enjoys reflecting on the 34 years he has spent in the cruising industry, including what the experience taught him. “It’s all about working with different personalities and people of all cultures,” says Nodal, who most recently worked as senior shipboard management recruiter at Royal Caribbean International.

In your experience as a shipboard hotel director working alongside officers, staff and crew members representing more than 50 different nationalities, why is it important to establish good working relationships?

The chain is only as strong as the weakest link. You have to make sure that you talk to your staff and I don’t mean just the captain or the chief engineer or the executive chef. For example, I walked into the galley once and there’s the pot washer – one of the hardest jobs – working, and smiling. He was very surprised that the hotel director would even walk up to him. If the pots or the pans aren’t cleaned properly, we could get a lot of people hurt with food poisoning. I invited him to my table. He had never sat in that area of the ship for dinner. You have to respect each position. Everybody likes to be appreciated.

In your opinion, what characteristics make up good, healthy working relationships?

The foundation for any good relationship is trust. You have to work together as one. Don’t just look at the grey areas. Look at the positives and the negatives, too, and always give thanks. Be mindful that each person’s responsibilities are tough and no one is ever correct all the time. Smile a little bit. Even if it’s a tough situation, you’ve got to be smiling.

What type of relationships deserve special attention in the hierarchy of life at sea?

Right off the bat, it’s the marine department and the hotel department, which are the largest departments. The chief engineer has to do everything associated with water, electricity and ensures that everything is functioning. The hotel department encompasses everything else – revenue, expenditures, food, beverage, houskeeping, entertainment, etc. You have to make sure that the hierarchy functions like one solid unit. If everybody is going in different directions, the staff actually feels that. Also, the team sees that, or they hear it, through rumors. Work together, smile together and have a little bit of fun together. Let’s say there are 3,000 crew-members onboard a ship; 2,220 are hotel and 800 are marine, give or take. Spend time with the staff, and not just department heads. Have an open-door policy or you’re in trouble. Make people feel like they can walk through the door. Do they want to walk in there? Do they trust you? Are you always going to back the department head or taking the time to find out how the current situation occurred?

What recommendations do you have for establishing strong working relationships in an environment that requires you to live and work with your colleagues 24/7 for months at a time?

Say to someone, ‘Hey, let’s talk one on one.’ Avoid any type of gossiping and talking about each other. Make sure that you appreciate each other. A lot of times people say they don’t have time to do this. Who doesn’t like a pat on the back? When someone gives you a pat on the back, you want to come to work. Listen to the other person. My father always told me if you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning. If you are always talking, what are you going to pick up?

What is your advice on handling difficult relationships?

You’ve got to step back when you are in a difficult relationship and see it from the other side. Why is the relationship difficult? What is it that they’re thinking about me or my management style or my decisions? If you feel there are any difficulties, talk to that person. Don’t scream, don’t point. Ask, ‘What is the largest issue that is causing friction in the relationship? Is it that I should have come to you first before saying anything to your staff?’ Sometimes you are dealing with egos. They want to show power and toughness. When you’re up in the ranks, you’re not going to please everybody. Spend time in a private area, even off the ship, if you have to, and put yourself in that person’s shoes. The cruising industry is a very small organization. Your worst enemy could one day be your boss.