Managing workplace relationships

BY ROBERT MANDEYA

Workplaces are zones of high interactivity and at times work relations can be hectic. Workplaces can present serious flashpoints for conflict therefore it is important to acquire interpersonal skills.  Better managed work relations improve organisational performance and productivity thereby positively impacting on Return On Investment (ROI). It therefore becomes imperative for organisational leaders to acquire astute interpersonal skills so as to drive their organisations to the right direction.

Think about it for a moment. We start learning relationships about the time we recognise a smile means happy and a harsh voice means mad. As we grow we develop myriad relationships and as an adult we have made some pretty hard and fast rules about “types” of people and how we will interact with them. But the types of relationships at work are a tad more difficult to manage because you can’t rely on your rules alone and succeed.

A Short Story

Here is a short story to illustrate how lack of appropriate interpersonal skills can negatively impact on the smooth running of the organisation; In an organisation that was very successful (it had one of the best brands in its market), a respected leader was replaced in a palace coup. Despite the previous success of the organisation, the replacement (hand selected by the board chair) immediately discredited the success and talent of the previous leader and leadership team. According to the new leader, remaining leaders and professional staff did not meet minimum talent qualifications required. This was also the view of the board chair. New talent was needed (with friends or acquaintances of the leader being hired).

The new leader’s entire focus was on the board chair, the chair’s spouse and a few select board members. Feedback from staff on proposed actions was discounted if it ran contrary to the direction received from above. The CEO huddled with the board chair on a regular basis to plan strategy and action and to discuss individuals in the organisation. As a result, staff saw the new CEO as a puppet, not a leader. The staff lived in a state of constant surprise (and turmoil) over what would come next.

The CEO would regularly ask staff (below the direct report level) for their opinions. (Management was constantly irritated by what they felt was bypassing the chain of command). He welcomed and encouraged honesty but was known to mock staff responses to his inner circle when the conversations with them were recounted.

On several instances the leaders initiated personnel actions against staff that were on Family Medical Leave Act causing an ongoing battle with the HR director.

You have to interact with superiors, peers, subordinates, vendors and clients and each have their own set of “rules” that you are going to have to deal with. In the story above this leader did not understand the feelings and experience of others, therefore was not empathetic. He tended to value social connections with people who offered him the most value thereby leaving out the rest of the workforce. Tips to better manage relationships in  the workplace:

Knowing yourself

For most of our lives we simply react to emotion; we don’t spend any time analysing why we feel the way we do. If we are mad, frustrated, happy, sad or indifferent we simply react to it the way we learned how. Take some time to do some self analysis and understand why you feel the way you do. What makes you feel frustrated, what buttons do people push to get you upset and why, what really drives your sense of pride.

Do not be a control freak

How many times have you been in a position where you told yourself, “If they’d just see it my way everything would be fine.” The problem of course is that you can’t force them to “see it your way.” You can’t control the relationships you encounter at work. The only person you can change is yourself. Don’t waste energy, or burn whatever relationship capital that you have, trying to change people to your point of view.

Be  in charge

Being in charge is different from being in control. Being in charge means you accept the situation for what it is and you understand the reality even if it’s not what you want. Once you understand the issues you can work on a solution that you can work with or work around or otherwise mitigate the conflict. You know you are in charge when you are confident that you have several things you can try to work through an issue without having to “control” the other parties.

Understand the other person

Old adages like “know your enemy” and “walk a mile in his moccasins” are pertinent to effective management of workplace relationships. Understand who you are talking to. Is there a hidden agenda, is it a person accustomed to always getting their way or is it someone who always expects disappointments. Knowing where they are coming from allows you to better set expectations and relations.

Change  your attitude

Our culture is big on self-criticism. We truly are a nation of “the glass is half empty” believers. If you carry that attitude as a manager you can expect that those you interact with will also adopt that approach. Finding the positive, even if it’s nothing more than a willingness to recognise and work out a negative situation, develops a different and more productive attitude in those that you work with. Having a positive attitude backed up with a sincere interest in the concerns of others will distinguish you as a leader.

Be a  problem solver

When there is a relationship problem, start working on a solution right away. Don’t procrastinate as the issue will only become larger and more complex. Not only is this a solid management principal, it also lends you credibility as a manager who is concerned and willing to work to resolve issues.

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.