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The Power of Relationship
This chapter gives tips on how to reinforce relationships and thus prevent performance disappointments—even when dealing with people you don’t like. Good working relationships are pivotal to getting positive results and developing team harmony. When interpersonal communication at work is pleasant, people can focus on the projects and tasks instead of being sidetracked by poor relationships.
The manager’s intention and decision to form good working relationships is crucial. Leaving it to chance means ignoring a great opportunity to create an environment conducive to people producing their best work.
Your staff know what your intentions are. They know whether or not you value them as persons or just as tools to get what you need done.
They know if you like them or not. Managers need to communicate that they value relationships with their direct reports.
What Is a Work Relationship?
Simply stated, a working relationship is a connection between people who deal with each other in some work way. The association can be required by business interactions or can be desired based on enjoyment of productively working together and trusting the other person will contribute and meet deadlines.
Relationships can be kept at the acquaintance level or can involve a continued connection that develops rapport and mutual trust. Some people may go beyond the minimum work requirements and enjoy coffee or lunch together to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and interests. Others may choose friendship based on compatibility and common pursuits. I have enjoyed friendships with both my managers and my direct reports. Some of these friendships took place only at work.
For others, we chose to socialize outside of work and were close friends.
Sometimes people keep up the relationship after they cease working together and sometimes they do not. So there is a wide range of acceptable work-related relationships.
The word ‘‘relationship’’ intimidates some managers because they think it implies friendship or getting close to someone. They don’t want to invest time in a relationship and they don’t want to get personal with coworkers. In reality, it can have a minimal meaning of being respectful a friendly, and courteous and getting the work done together. It does not have to be personal.
Some managers do want to be somewhat personal but want to know where to draw the line. How personal can we be in establishing work relationships? One senior executive asked, ‘‘Most people do want to talk about their kids, but how friendly and personal can we be without being nosy?’’ Managers do want to play it safe and not offend direct reports.
There is no one way to define work relationships. The work must get accomplished and the manager needs to create a comfortable environment with open communication so coworkers can trust and help each other. The types of relationships developed depend on the people and the situation.
Types of Relationships
Years ago I had a friend named Jerry who liked to shop at the corner grocery store. Every time he shopped there he complained about how high the prices were. ‘‘Why don’t you go to the big chain grocery store?’’ a asked. ‘‘It’s two blocks closer to your home.’’ ‘‘No,’’ he would always say. ‘‘I go to the mom-and-pop store because they know my name.’’
Jerry felt good because the corner grocers treated him as an individual person. He could not expect this treatment at the chain grocery store where the checkout people would ring up his groceries but not show any interest in him. He was willing to pay more and walk farther because he enjoyed the relationship at the mom-and-pop store.
On the other hand, a relationship can be based on the quality of the work. I have used the same dry cleaner for years because I like the consistent results. Ownership and employees have changed, but the standard of quality remains. My relationship with the current woman at the dry cleaner is friendly, cordial, and surface.We smile, exchange pleasantries a and nothing personal is discussed. Our brief but regular interactions deal only with the task at hand—the dry cleaning of my clothes—and perhaps comments about the weather and other small talk. If there is a button missing or a shirt that needs to be re-ironed, I bring it up in a friendly, nondemanding, nonaccusatory way that leaves the door open for her to suggest the solution. Our relationship is based entirely on the business transaction. If I didn’t like the quality of the work, I wouldn’t patronize the shop.
Relationships vary depending upon how much both parties want to know about each other. Many neighbors have relationships. Typically they entail showing respect and meeting mutual community goals—
cleanliness, safety, and regulations, if the neighborhood has an association.
Maybe neighbors collect each other’s mail and papers and care for animals during vacations. One household might have neighbors they only say hello to, ones they see only at neighborhood social functions a and others they are friends with. One size does not fit all, because there are at least two people deciding how much to interact and how much personal information to share.
It’s the same thing at work. What brings people together is a task or project. Then colleagues choose how much interest to express in getting to know about where their coworkers are from, where they worked before a other places they’ve lived, hobbies, families, travel, and so on. And they each choose how much to tell. Despite a manager’s best intentions, a particular employee may not want to discuss anything personal. Even some managers have said they don’t want to disclose personal information.
Work relationships don’t need to be personal, but they do need to be congenial. Some managers have mentioned that they don’t want to listen to direct reports’ stories. But those few minutes of listening can be the bridge to employee commitment and enthusiasm about the work and the manager. Taking a little time to express interest, to show compassion when employees are sad or bereaved or ill, and to feel happiness for them when they celebrate a work achievement or personal feat can make life at the office more pleasurable and productive for everyone.
Smiling, laughing, and using open body language show the manager is congenial. Setting a climate of courtesy and cooperation enables teams of coworkers to exchange their thoughts and ideas on common tasks.
The better the relationships, the better the chance of collaborative results.
Relationships can make the difference in whether people want to come to work and in how willing they are to help others. A comfortable workplace invites people to be their authentic selves.