Creating positive workplace relationships

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Are your workdays non-stop, activity-filled, seemingly never-ending? Are you continually on the go, focused on projects, budgets, detail and deadlines?

It is an unfortunate side effect of our task-focused working lives that it has become easier and easier to lose sight of workplace relationships. As a result, we forget that our personal and professional success depends as much on the quality of these relationships as it does on how effectively we perform our tasks.

So why not take a little time to explore the obstacles that get in the way of building positive workplace relationships. And if you think that this might be difficult, think again. Because one of the most effective ways of going about this is remarkably simple: ask for feedback.

Self-awareness is one of the most important qualities that effective leaders and manager can possess. Asking others to hold a mirror up for you lets you see the flaws and blind spots that keep you from creating effective relationships at work.

This exploration could be one of the most powerful and valuable efforts you can make at work – and you may be surprised what you learn about yourself. Here's how to do it.

Who Do I Ask?
Ask three people for feedback about you. Choose three people who will speak honestly - perhaps a manager, team member, peer or direct report. Seek out individuals who interact with you on a consistent (daily, weekly) basis and with whom who have a working relationship. But make sure that at least one of these is someone with whom you are experiencing some type of conflict.

What Do I Ask About?
Ask pertinent questions that directly relate to your work and your working relationships. No "fluff" or "softball" stuff here. This is a personal and professional growth exercise and so demands a seriousness-of-purpose approach.

The focus here is on learning how others see you. Examples of the questions to ask are in the sidebox at the end of this page.

What Do I Do During the Exercise?
Asking for (and giving) feedback is uncomfortable for most folks, especially if both individuals are in a reporting relationship. So it's important not to react to anything that is said to you. Your goal in this excise is to listen – and only to listen.

So focus on what the he other person is saying rather than engaging in a running mental analysis about it – something that demands strength, courage and self-discipline.

What Do I Say When Scheduling the Conversation?
It's important to schedule the conversation at a mutually-convenient time and in a place that is safe and comfortable – and preferably outside your everyday work environment. Ensure there are no distractions that can take you away from focusing – particularly co-workers, cell phones or Blackberries!

Explain that you are requesting a time to speak with them because you want to ask for feedback on how you're doing in your role as a leader, manager or supervisor. Stress that you know most folks have blind spots about themselves and you want them to offer their honest perceptions about you, especially regarding things you can do to improve your working relationships.

Indicate that you want them to be totally frank and you're interested in what they have to say. But acknowledge that you're aware how uncomfortable it can be giving this type of feedback and stress that you welcome their openness and honesty.

Be Present and Listen
Do some deep breathing, stretching, visualization or other relaxation exercises before you meet the other person. It's important that you are relaxed to encourage the other person to speak openly.

One good technique is to periodically feel your feet on the floor and sense your butt in your chair. This will help to be grounded, present, and focused so you are not "in your head", over-thinking and making up stories that interfere with your listening.

SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT QUESTIONS
  • What are two things I can do more often (and two I can do less often) that would make me a more effective leader, manager or supervisor?
  • What can I do to get people more involved, more engaged and do their best work?
  • How can I include you/others more effectively in the decision-making process?
  • What are examples of times I am ineffective as a decision-maker?
  • What are examples of how/when I am inconsiderate of others?
  • How can I pay more attention to you/others?
  • How can I better recognize and reward good performance?
  • How am I at managing conflict? How could I be better?
  • How do I discourage you/others from speaking up, especially when you/they have disagreements?
  • What do you like most about working with me?
  • What do you like least about working with me?
  • What complaints do you hear about me from time to time?
  • What one thing would you like me to do differently that would make our workplace relationship, and our workplace, a better one?
No Push-Back or Defend Yourself
Under no circumstances are you to say anything - especially when you have the urge to defend yourself. Do not make excuses for your behavior, or try to argue.

It's important to remember that what the other person says is "true for them" regardless of how you feel. If they have this perception of you, then know that you are doing something to contribute to their perception like it or not.

Apologize, if Necessary
If what they say is accurate and you owe that person an apology, then, at the end, when the other person is finished, apologize. Short and sweet. Just say, "I apologize" and that's it.

Thank The Person for Speaking With You Openly and Honestly
When the pother person is finished saying what they wanted to say, respond with a "Thank you." Again. Short and sweet. "Thank you" and that's it. Leave the experience separately.

Reflect Deeply
This is where you take action to forward your own professional and personal growth. Over the next few days or weeks, identify two or three areas that you deem as important for further exploration, areas you need to work on.

Decide how these personal and professional growth/development areas point to training needs, behavioral change, skills development, etc. Decide who can support you to take action and move forward to enlist their support. This might be in the form of a coach, a training specialist, an in-house resource, etc.

Meet with the individual or individuals, discuss what you've discovered about yourself and, together, create a program of action steps that will support you to create change. There's a 100 percent probability you cannot effect this change on your own, so don't even think about it. Set goals to achieve, and milestones to check your progress on a regular basis.

This powerful feedback exercise can support you in your on-going personal and professional growth while ensuring your continued success as a leader, manager or supervisor. It will support you to create ever-effective workplace relationships the type of relationship, without which, your role and the effectiveness of your team, can stall or even self-destruct.

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