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Three Ways to Improve Work Relationships and Increase Your Own Effectiveness

1. Don't just give feedback - ask for it.

When confronted with people who bug the you know what out of you, do you tend to expect that they (not you) need to change? While it’s temporarily satisfying to believe that changing others is the way to improve relationships, the best approach to building effective relationships is by changing yourself first.

Follow these three practices to start with yourself first:

  1. Ask for feedback, don’t just give it. If you can’t recall the time you last asked for feedback, you’re in good company. Most of us resist it because we equate it with criticism. But if we see feedback as something useful that can support us in getting better, we won’t be so threatened by it. Use these tips when asking for feedback:

Assume good intent. Most people mean well, so give them the benefit of the doubt. Those who have mustered the courage to give you feedback are feeling as vulnerable sharing it as you are receiving it. Show up with an open heart and signal that it is “safe” to give you feedback.

Ask for it skillfully. Don’t surprise people with a request for feedback on the spot. Give them advance notice to prepare. Instead of a general, “How did I do?” ask people to share specific things you could say or do to improve.

Act on It Immediately. While you don’t need to implement every piece of feedback, you do need to act on it, or share why you aren’t going to act on it. People may start to feel safe when you ask them for feedback, but they will know they are safe when they see you take action.

  1. Get the Volume Right on Your Strengths. We all rely on our natural “go-to” strengths to get work done. Imagine your strengths are like a pair of headphones. Sometimes, the volume feels inadequate after a few minutes, so we inch up the level—potentially damaging our ears in the process.

Our strengths function in the same way. We grow accustomed to using them at a certain level. But without even realizing it, we dial them up—especially in times of stress—potentially damaging relationships. For example, a strength of practicality, if dialed too high, can become pessimism; loyalty can become gullibility, and passion can become dominance.

Practice getting your volume right by identifying three strengths. Describe how “setting the volume too high” in each strength would look. Then, ask a trusted friend if they’ve seen you exhibit those behaviors. Finally, brainstorm a different strength that might have been more effective in the situation, and/or if needed, which ways you might turn the volume down on the original strength in the future.

  1. Identify Your Contribution, Not Just Your To-Do List. Consider the important roles you play at work and home. Don’t just think about the things you need to do in each of those roles. Think about who you want to be in each role. This will help you identify the contribution you want to make in each role and how you will show up for the people who matter most.

Identify a mix of 5-7 of your most important personal and professional roles. Write down one person you influence in each role (i.e. If you’re a manager, choose one of the people you lead. If you’re a parent, choose one of your children. Next to each name, write a sentence or two about what you hope that person would say about you if they were giving you a glowing review. Use the following examples to guide you in creating a tribute statement for each of your important roles:

Parent: He loves me unconditionally no matter what I do. He helps me see my potential.

Leader: She listens to my ideas and always gives me opportunities to grow and develop my skills.

Project Manager: He makes it safe to explore options and take risks. I’m free to make mistakes as I learn what will and won’t work.

Friend: I never feel judged or pitied by her. I always feel encouraged and understood.

Share your tribute statement with each person you identified, then ask each one: From your perspective, what do I need to start doing to make this statement a reality? Once you have everyone’s feedback, identify a few actions you will take today to become the person you want to become.

By changing yourself first and resisting the urge to try and change others, you will improve relationships more quickly, increase your personal effectiveness, and have far greater influence in the long-run.

Todd Davis is EVP, Chief People Officer for FranklinCovey and author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work

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