5 minute read

People Management

Creating Positive Relationships

My expectations for myself are pretty high, and the biggest mistake I made during my first year as a manager was imposing those same expectations on the person who worked for me. This girl was very different from me. While she still managed to get her work done on time, she was not nearly as organized or efficient about it as I am. I was frustrated with her and showed it pretty often. I even held back her promotion because she hadn't mastered, overnight, skills that come naturally to me. Nearly in tears, she told me she felt like she could never please me. Looking back, she was probably right.

Marissa, 26, Ottawa

When it comes to relationship building, corporate business diverges sharply from the educational experiences of childhood and adolescence. As I've already discussed, achievement is an individual endeavor in grade school through college. Even if you didn't have a good teacher or friends to help you with your homework, you could still master the material on your own and get an A. Like it or not, the business world is a different animal. You need other people to get ahead, and each interpersonal relationship you create has the potential to do more for your career than reading 100 books about your trade.

Most of us develop relationships every day without even thinking about it. Sometimes we select the people we want to associate with based on common interests, lifestyles, and personality traits. Other times we fall into relationships because they are convenient at a particular point in time (for example, neighbor-to-neighbor). Work relationships are similar to family relationships. We don't necessarily choose them and we might prefer not to have them, but, for our sanity's sake, we have to make them work as best we can.

Because they don't come as naturally, work relationships can be difficult to care for and maintain if you're not paying attention. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces the concept of the “emotional bank account” to help us consciously manage our most constant relationships. In every emotional bank account, we save trust and goodwill through deposits of kindness, honesty, and keeping our word. When the reserve of trust in an account is high, communication is instant, easy, and effective. On the other hand, if we continually show another person disrespect, the trust account diminishes, and the slightest provocation can turn into a relationship “incident.” In other words, having an ongoing positive rapport with someone means that he will give you a break when you make a mistake.

Here's an example of the emotional bank account in action. I had a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with my colleague Michelle. One morning, I had to meet with a client even though I wasn't feeling well. During the meeting, Michelle justifiably asked me a question, and I bit her head off. If Michelle and I hadn't had such a good relationship, she might have been offended by my rudeness. However, when I apologized to her later, I found that she had already forgotten it. “I didn't take it personally,” Michelle said. “I knew it wasn't like you and that something must be going on.” Fortunately, Michelle and I had enough trust built up to cover the withdrawal to our emotional bank account. I also made an additional deposit when I apologized for my bad behavior.

Whether you make a withdrawal or not, your account reserves need constant replenishing. Old deposits evaporate with time, so a person isn't necessarily going to remember a favor you did for him months ago if the two of you haven't had another positive interaction since then. As I mentioned in the previous section, showing appreciation, praising superior work, and complimenting when appropriate are great techniques for keeping your relationships healthy and productive. Here are a few more ways you can make routine deposits to your emotional bank accounts:

  • • Take a sincere interest in the other person and what's meaningful to him.
  • • Attend to the little things, such as returning a phone call or acknowledging his birthday.
  • • Deliver on anything and everything you promise.
  • • Make a concerted effort to keep the lines of communication open.
  • • Remember his name and the names of the important people in his life.
  • • Demonstrate integrity under all circumstances.

You can also improve your relationships by effectively managing your expectations of other people. Remember those evil shoulds from Chapter 6? Author and psychologist Hendrie Weisinger warns against expecting too much from your relationships. Consciously or unconsciously, you may want your boss to be in a good mood all of the time or your admin to be as pathologically detail-oriented as you are. However, when your expectations exceed what other people can or will do, you become frustrated and disappointed. You can prevent your relationships from taking a beating by ensuring that your expectations are reasonable and realistic. If you're not sure, seek advice from a mentor or trusted colleague who has been in your position before. Once you've clarified your expectations in your own mind, make certain you accurately communicate them to the other person. Solicit feedback in advance so that you can uncover potential roadblocks and avoid being caught off guard later on.

Being Mentally Present

I hate it when my coworker suggests lunch meetings in the cafeteria, because, inevitably, the two of us will be sitting there together and he'll start looking past me at everything going on and everyone around us. I know the caf's a happening place, but come on! Whatever happened to listening and making eye contact? Sometimes I wonder if he would even notice if I stopped talking. It's downright embarrassing.

Heather, 25, Georgia

Want to know an important yet significantly underrated strategy for building strong workplace relationships? Simply make a habit of being present for every person you deal with—not just physically present, mind you, but mentally present. This means actually listening to what the other person is saying, focusing on him rather than everything else going on in the room, and ignoring potential interruptions, such as ringing phones or beeping Blackberries.

When someone comes to your office or cube, decide right then and there if you have time to talk. If you don't, say so. If you do have time, but only a little bit, ask them if it's enough. You don't necessarily have to drop everything for the person, but once you make the commitment to have a dialogue, please be respectful. Remember that his time is important too, and give him your full attention. Doing this will set you apart from the scores of corporate employees who believe that sitting across the desk from another person means you're communicating.

Several years ago I had a boss who took every call and read every new e-mail that came in while I was meeting with her. She was a great manager otherwise, but I get a bad taste in my mouth when I think of how every meeting took a half hour instead of 5 minutes, because she prioritized every interruption ahead of me. I shall now retire my soapbox, but you get the point. Don't become one of them! Try to be mentally present for every person you talk to, every day.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareer Advice: Career 101 for Recent Graduates, New Hires, and Would-be Corporate ClimbersPeople Management - Enlisting Cooperation, A Touch Of Sweetness, Creating Positive Relationships, Dealing With Difficult People