When leaving a job, the late nights and all-consuming projects quickly become history. What we take with us, are the people we worked with and the friendships we formed.
Much of what contributes to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction are our workplace relationships. “I just can’t work with this person. We don’t see eye to eye. We can’t get along,” are the types of challenges that often motivate people to job hunt.
I’m a believer that suffering at work is optional. You deserve and can have a job doing work you love, with people you enjoy. If your workplace relationships are strained, there are several things you can do to improve them.
Four steps to improve workplace relationships:
1. Make a list of the people you need a good working relationship with.
2. If you’re not sure who you need to work well with, ask your boss, peers, and internal customers. They know.
3. Ensure you know what your internal customers are expecting from you. Ask what a good job looks like, how they’re evaluating your results, and how they like to communicate.
4. Tell people you’re struggling with, “I think we both know this relationship is strained. I’d really like a good working relationship with you. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has gone on, and perhaps start in a different way?”
Fixing a broken relationship needs to be a phone or in-person conversation. Sending someone an email, telling him you want a good working relationship, won’t do the job.
Damaged workplace relationships can be fixed. We often don’t know what the other person is really upset about. We may think we know or assume, but may be surprised when we have the conversation.
You spend way too much time at work not to enjoy the people you work with. Don’t assume strained relationships will remain strained. Identify who is most important to your success, tell those people you want a good working relationship, and then ask questions to learn what they are expecting from you. Good relationships don’t just happen.
You have more influence over your relationships than you may think. Don’t accept the status quo. Suffering is optional.
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I recently interviewed a candidate who asked for a lot of ‘stuff’ during the interview process. He wanted compensation, perks, accommodations, and benefits that were way outside the norm. I’m assuming he was employing the adage we’ve all heard, that “it can’t hurt to ask.” Unfortunately, it can hurt to ask.
When forging new relationships, we watch (judge) people. We’re trying to figure out who they are and how they are. Are they the person they claimed to be during the interview process? Are they trustworthy? Did I make the right decision in bringing this person into my team, organization, and life?
Requests always make an impression. When we’re building new relationships, requests make an even bigger impression. Candidates who said the commute wouldn’t be an issue, but complain about it two weeks into the job, cause managers to doubt their hiring decision. Coworkers who consistently ask for extensions to deadlines, appear unreliable.
People watch us and silently judge, making assessments about our commitment, reliability and even character. Don’t make people question you. Make reasonable asks.
Five ways to make reasonable requests:
Vet your requests with people who know your company, manager, and/or industry, before making them. What is a reasonable request in one organization, might not be in another.
If something is important to you, ask for it during the interview process or at the onset of new projects and relationships. Don’t wait. Waiting to ask for things, until after you’ve started a job and are comfortable with your manager, can damage your relationships and reputation. Managers don’t like bait and switch, even when it’s unintended.
Don’t ask again, once you’ve received an emphatic “no.” I worked with someone who asked for something during the interview process. I said “no” and explained why. He asked again after being hired. This annoyed me and made me feel like he didn’t listen and would push me on this and on other things.
If you aren’t sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable, say so. Tell the person you’re asking what you want and to please tell you if it isn’t a reasonable request.
Ask for feedback on your requests. If you’ve seen me speak, you know I’m a proponent of telling people, “If I do anything that damages our working relationship or makes you question me, I hope you’ll tell me. I promise I’ll take your feedback graciously, and say “thank you.””
Ask for what you want, within reason, be up front when relationships begin, and build your relationships rather than break them.
It can’t hurt to ask, right? Wrong. Requests make an impression. Make reasonable asks. Repair a relationship, when you’ve asked for too much.
When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.
When someone does somethingfor the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.
Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.
When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.
Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.
When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”
In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.
Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.
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