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Five Practices to Building Stronger Work Relationships

It starts with you

“Relationships have fast become the new bottom line,” states Esther Perel in her opening at SXSW2019.

Perel, a leading psychotherapist on relationships, goes on to say, “It is the quality of our relationships that determines the quality of our lives. The quality of our relationships at work determines the actual quality of our work and overall ability to succeed.”

The level of relationship intelligence a person has is unlikely to make its way into performance goals and it is difficult to measure. Yet, people are often dismissed from or moved out of a role not because they lack technical skills or capacity, but because they aren’t able to execute in the highly collaborative work economy of today. I’ve watched projects fail with all manner of finger pointing at the process failures, inadequate resources or poor technical implementation when it was fairly obvious that the dysfunction of the team and its relationships were root cause. All projects face time, resource and capacity constraints. Highly functioning teams have the power to achieve success for the company despite these constraints.

At work, we co-create. We organize ourselves around priorities and efforts to achieve results – often financial. If we start with the premise that our relationships at work determine the actual quality of the output, what is it that we need to do to ensure high quality relationships?

It starts with you.

Be 100% responsible for the health and wellness of each of your work (and life) relationships.

Now I have your attention. The obvious question: why isn’t the other person also responsible? I can already hear the exceptions about the completely unreasonable and difficult people with whom you work.

When you believe someone else must do something different so you can achieve success, you are at a disadvantage. You have no control over someone else’s behavior. Choosing to prioritize the relationship as important and change how you show up will cause a shift that often influences others in a positive way. We spend many hours at work working in teams to accomplish our goals. High trust, high functioning relationships improve the quality of the output and serve to increase our own happiness. I’ve put together five practices to consider in raising the bar on your work relationships

Five Practices to Build Stronger Work Relationships:

Have an attitude of gratitude. Google “gratitude research” and you’ll see science is on the side of gratitude and its impact on happiness and well-being. Try waking up each morning and spending just a few minutes listing all those things for which you are grateful. If you want to strengthen a specific work relationship, include something like, “I’m so grateful my colleague took the time to engage in working through this vendor problem.”

Embrace vulnerability. Brene Brown is the expert in vulnerability. Her research says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation and creativity,” both of which are highly prized in most organizations today. We can’t access empathy without vulnerability and being empathic in our relationships allows us to shift our perceptions about our relationships.

Own how you show up. If you accept the premise that you are responsible for the state of all of your work and life relationships and that the way to improve a critical work relationship is to make changes in yourself, then you will start showing up differently. I’ll remind you that the only thing you control is yourself and your thoughts. Choose them wisely.

See the best. Let go of the rest. We attract and get more of whatever we put our focus on. Have you ever noticed that the more you dwell on someone’s irritating habit, the more they do it? Make it a practice to identify something you appreciate or admire in each work relationship and then let go of what irritates you. I do not mean let go of ethical or moral behaviors that need HR attention, but the rest of it. Ignore it and walk away. You’ll start to see less of what you don’t like. At a minimum, you’ll feel better. With regular practice, you’ll start to reshape your work relationship and improve your ability to be productive working together.

Practice compartmentalization. In the documentary,RBG, about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is coverage on the relationship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg. They have vastly different legal ideologies yet they were quite good friends and shared mutual respect for and trust in one another. We can only imagine how well this helped them navigate conflict. One of Ginsburg’s friends talks about her ability to compartmentalize, allowing her to separate differences in ideologies from her appreciation of and respect for a colleague. Compartmentalization is a strong technique in managing healthy conflict and building strong working relationships. Try putting aside an emotional response to a situation for a few hours or longer, if possible, before revisiting

Conclusion

I feel certain that I will not be standing in front of an investor or C-suite executive anytime soon illustrating how relationships have contributed to the financial success of the company. It’s a provocative notion that Perel puts forth and it’s worth considering. For decades, I’ve experienced successful and unsuccessful work relationships, have deconstructed and rebuilt teams and have had my fair share of both success and failure. From this is born the potential for self-righteousness or self-awareness. Self-awareness leads you on a path of growth and hopefully to the realization that when it comes to successful relationships in life or at work, your success 100% rests in your own hands.

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