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Nurturing effective working relationships

MANAGING relationships and behaviours with professional detachment requires a degree of self-awareness, skill and sensitivity in dealing with other people.

This kind of working environment throws up a whole range of pressures on the day-to-day relationships that senior leadership team needs to maintain.

Different types of behaviour

Clear, honest, open communication and assertiveness can help to reduce stress in interactions with other people. To understand what assertiveness is we must, first of all, be clear about what it is not. It is not about being aggressive, indirect or submissive behaviour. Most of us tend to vary our style of communication depending on the circumstances and who we are talking to.

Assertiveness is a key skill that can help you to better manage yourself, people and situations. It can help you to influence others in order to gain acceptance, agreement or behaviour change.

Assertiveness is not about aggression, dominating or dismissing others in order to get what you want. Nor is it passive, failing to express yourself adequately, being self-doubting or timid. It is the ability to express your opinions positively and with confidence. Assertive people are in control and honest about themselves and others.


Communication is key to a successful and effective organisation management. Much communication is still formal, through meetings and other platforms and or channnels. It is important to look at key aspects of communication. This includes how individuals interpret the same experience differently; factors that get in the way of clear communication i.e. barriers to communication; and the value of giving and getting employees and senior leadership team feedback, so as to develop a shared understanding and common purpose. The essence of survival in any organisation is to be able to communicate effectively.

Communication strategies, systems and practices do play a central role in high performance, influencing the energy levels for change and improvement. Effective communication requires effective strategy — a coherent plan of action.

Improving communication means giving attention to the words you use, how you use them and your ability to listen.

An important aspect of a leader’s interactions with other people is presenting your case and views to others.

How we interpret the world

The process through which communication is structured is often fraught with misinterpretations. How many times have you witnessed an event, say a film or TV programme, or a conversation at a social or business event, and then heard someone else’s account of it conflict with your own? We tend to expect everyone to see things the way we do, so it is a bit of a shock when they have a totally different view. If people disagree in their understanding and interpretation of shared experiences, how much more difficult is it to get across ideas and opinions about something that is outside the other person’s experience altogether?

Common communication barriers

No matter how good the communication systems in an organisation, unfortunately barriers can and do often occur. Language used can cause barriers where the communication message might not use vocabulary that is understood by the receiver; for example, too much use of technical or financial jargon.

Noise is another hindrance where various things stop a message from getting through or being heard, for example, poor connection, background noise, distractions, too many people speaking. Noise appears in many forms — it can also be distractions due to pictures on the wall or objects in the room. In written forms of communication it can be the inclusion of irrelevant material, or an unsystematic approach to the topic. In other cases information overload can cause problems; for example, overload can slow down decision-making.

There is also the aspect of emotion; the relationship between the sender and receiver of communication might adversely affect the message, which could be ignored or misinterpreted. Also gaps where too many intermediaries, for example, too many layers in hierarchy through which the message has to be passed, might prevent or distort the message. Inconsistency: if people receive conflicting or inconsistent messages, they may ignore or block them. It is essential to put in place strategies to deal with the barriers you identify. By overcoming barriers to communication, you can ensure that the statement you are making, individually or collectively, is not just heard, but understood by the person or people you are speaking to or communicating with.

The different types of barriers to effective communication can re-inforce each other, leading to vicious cycles. By anticipating potential barriers and attempting to avoid them wherever possible, the impact of communication can become greatly increased.

Giving and getting feedback

Because of the difficulties already considered, seeking feedback from the receiver of communication is crucial to make sure the sender has succeeded in conveying what they wanted to convey. This checking helps to ensure mutual understanding.

It is useful to get in the habit of giving feedback as well as asking for it, by paraphrasing or reflecting back what the sender has said or is asking for clarification if the meaning is not clear. Another important form of feedback is non-verbal communication. Non-verbal signals often convey our feelings. We sometimes say one thing while feeling quite the opposite. Facial expressions, posture, vocal intonation and inflection often “leak” what we are really feeling.

Finally, it is worth stressing that many exchanges between people are in reality not aiming to progress towards mutual understanding. Instead they often represent struggles for power and control of one person over another.
Reading the politics of the organisation and its meetings is a crucial dimension of being an effective leader.

Robert Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Institute of Leadership, Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/www.lird.co.zw.

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