Strong relationships are built on trust, respect and mutual support. The world’s best teams (whether in the arena or the boardroom) are built on those qualities.
So how do you cultivate great work relationships?
Team-building events will get you off to a good headstart but it’s really about how you approach everyday interactions.
Here are some practical ways to build strong work relationships:
Listen to understand, not to reply. This is almost like our # 1 rule. When someone talks to you, even if you disagree with what they’re saying, don’t plan your response – rather, seek to really understand where they’re coming from. Seek to be curious and truly understand what is driving their issue for them. When you do reply, try to ask a question to understand more deeply.
When you’re upset with someone, talk to that person and not to others. Don’t triangulate or gossip. While it’s not easy to approach someone when they’ve upset you, it is possible to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations.
Triangulation is very common and it is an absolute killer of relationships and organizations. If you’re not familiar with it, triangulation is when I’m angry/frustrated/annoyed with Dave but instead of talking to Dave about it, I go to my colleague Sue and say, “Can you believe Dave?!? That’s a horrible idea he wants us to implement… etcetera, etcetera.” The only thing worse is when Sue chimes in, “Oh, I know – Dave’s always like that…”
Gossip is likewise toxic behaviour. Even if you think you can defend that what you’re saying is true, gossiping is malicious spreading of stories or rumours about someone else (whether true, or not, they’re malicious). If it needs to be said, say it to the person it concerns and not to others.
Build Stronger Teams
Be open and get to know your peers and staff. This is more than just chatting about the weather and beyond just meetings in the boardroom because we build stronger teams by developing relationships. Grab a coffee one-on-one once in a while, ask them about their life, and share a bit about yours.
Share your knowledge and support the work of your team members. There will be times that you can mentor or guide, and other times that the COACH Approach to leadership encourages and develops the best qualities of your team members.
And while you’re at it, share more of yourself in meetings too. Explain WHY you feel strongly about something. Share why it’s important to you even if others don’t see it. Regardless of the final decision, people who get to know you better will trust you more.
Focus on the issues and ideas, not the personality, and don’t shy away from conflict. A strong team can (and should) have lots of conflict around ideas. The only way to bring out the best, and to overcome the worst, is to have lots of debate about it before proceeding. Conflict around ideas is, of course, different than conflict between personalities.
Being comfortable with healthy conflict requires a lot of trust among team members because they have to know that you’re attacking the idea, not them. They also need to be confident that your goal is to find the best solutions for the organization – not the solution that makes you look good and not the solution that makes your division successful – but the best idea for the organization.
Work on your Emotional Intelligence – start with empathy. Presume good intent. Consider the world from the other person’s perspective – most people aren’t trying to simply be difficult – they’re trying to achieve something that’s important to them which may not be at all important or even evident to you. There are many ways you can boost your emotional intelligence in leadership.
Practice humility and gratitude. No one wants to work with a know-it-all. Pretending to always have the answers or to look perfect and unfailing not only sets you up for impostor syndrome when you inevitably struggle with something, it also builds a culture of hiding mistakes and mistrust. Fostering a sense of gratitude benefits you and your team. Unsure how to show gratitude? There are many ways to thank your team (and they work for special occasions or ordinary days!) and making journaling part of your routine is a way to reflect on your own gratitude (and it’s one leadership habit we see reap rewards over and over for our clients).
Have clear expectations. Identify your own needs – what is it you value in colleagues? What are you looking for in peers and staff? Share those needs in a kind and caring way so people know what you want from them. And, be prepared to hear different needs from them.
Learn to give feedback (or feedforward!). Difficult conversations can help us move forward when we know how to have better conversations about problems or issues. Sometimes we need to use a feedforward approach to help team members improve – without destroying their motivation or rattling their self-confidence.
Learn to take feedback. As the old saying goes, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it! Good leaders are able to handle criticism and recognize that criticism is actually a good opportunity to listen.
The better communication is among you and your team, the stronger your work relationships will be – and strong teams can accomplish great things together.
The Coach’s Questions:
Who do you need a better relationship with? What are you willing to do to try to strengthen work relationships? What might you most need to work on? What can you do today?