Relationship management is important for us all but becomes essential as a leader.
It’s important here to discuss leadership briefly.
In traditional management and leadership roles, typically the span of control is much smaller and teams easier to communicate with (and therefore control).
Workplaces are changing and ‘leadership’ is evolving. As organisational structures flatten and become agile and self-managing (read Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations), what establishes is cross-collaboration across teams and countries, facilitation, live learning sessions, coaching, etc. It is therefore natural that you will occasionally work with someone whom you disagree or clash with.
As a leader you are influencing and coaching others, balancing the needs of people and teams and often facilitating situations when relationships break down. Where conflict appears, and ongoing conflict is absorbed from others or sets in, the feeling is that you just cannot work with that person any longer.
There are many circumstances that lead to relationship challenges at work. Issues could arise from competition, distrust, a change in relationship, envy, a feeling of inequity or favouritism, lack of collaboration/secrecy, misunderstanding, language barriers, cultural barriers… the list is long. The thing is, once there’s a real or perceived break in a relationship, it dominates every interaction. It’s also often easier to say ‘it’s a learning opportunity’ when it’s challenging you every single day.
To begin to recover or strengthen a relationship, here are some tips to move that challenge forward:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood – Covey
- Start with a bit of Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If you’re struggling to find a common platform or place to start from, do this. Ask, and be genuinely interested in understanding where the other person is, what they are trying to achieve, and if you can, how they perceive your role in that.
- Look for common ground and find opportunities to support the other person whenever possible – this will help develop trust.
- Take responsibility. Taking the path of ‘I just can’t work with them’ or ‘they need to apologise first’ helps no-one. You won’t learn, it’s uncomfortable and everyone loses out.
- If you’re worried, role play or at least visualise the conversation where you interact with the other person and what you want to say. Do bear in mind that our own anxiety and imagination comes up with the worst outcomes as a defence mechanism, so the reality is unlikely to match!
- Recognise that if you have a difficult colleague, it is unlikely they have a problem with you – quite often you’re seeing fear or vulnerability. It’s very unlikely that the other person intends to upset you.
- Learn from what’s happening – keep a journal for your own benefit of what’s working or not. You can use that to become better at handling relationships in the future. 360 or a tool such as TKI™ may help too.
- Review how you currently deal with relationships and conflict.
- Establish regular time to resolve conflicts so it becomes a natural space to talk about disagreements.*
*Individuals should never use force against other people and they should honour their commitments. These principles are at the heart of the company’s conflict resolution mechanism, a process that is described in great detail in the ‘Colleagues Principles – Morning Star featured in Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organisations.
Common Leadership Worries – A Series
Leaders are typically described as strong, confident and assured people, knowing what to do when others don’t, and having the courage to act. But being a leader can put you in one of the most lonely and difficult places you will ever be, and every leader I’ve ever met has worries. Some are genuinely terrified of getting it wrong, letting people down or being found out as incapable, and they cope in different ways with these challenges.
Over the last 18 years, I have coached hundreds of people from interview candidates to team members, colleagues, and leaders. Across those conversations, patterns emerge and I’m going to share common worries that I hear with a few tips to overcome or manage them.
If you have any additional tips or are looking for a new coach, please do get in touch with Juliet via firstname.lastname@example.org