Relationships are based on a complex mix that includes the verbal and nonverbal messages we exchange and how they are interpreted. Our interactions are favored by the individuals’ feelings, values, experience, bias, thoughts and needs then shaped by history, the situation, the environment, and reactions from others. Influenced by factors such as time and noise; trust and confidence; word choice and listening skills; ambition and defensiveness, it’s no wonder misunderstandings and missed connections can occur.
On the other hand, a sense of connection, good communication, and fruitful collaboration entwine to make powerfully strong working relationships, and those relationships produce stellar results in less time and with greater harmony and satisfaction. We can strengthen relationships in the workplace when we purposefully cultivate connection, communication, and collaboration.
Connection: Building mutual understanding
- Find things in common. Exchange thoughts, opinions and concerns; determine what values or beliefs you have in common; emphasize common traits, strengths or weaknesses.
- Communicate regularly. Frequent communication promotes connection.
- Display reciprocity. Be willing to give or disclose first; give as much or more than you take.
- Know how to establish trust. Act with reliability, respect, honesty, support, sincerity, composure, and competence.
- Partner with your manager. Be friendly, but not familiar; give him or her credit and appreciation. Express support in public and be honest when asked your opinion; master the art of knowing what he or she needs to know. Understand what his or her job is—understand the issues and challenges from his or her perspective.
Communication: Boosting performance with highly effective communication
- Organize your thoughts to your purpose. To inform organize by chronology; simple to complex; major points; parts that make a whole. To persuade organize with: example then result then recommendation; problem then cause then options then solution; rule then exception then recommendation.
- Encourage support. Present all sides, and present yours last. Link your idea or solution to something you have in common or are in agreement about. Focus on results and the benefits to them. What will they gain? What do they stand to lose? Ask outright for support
- Information is power. Gather it through listening and questioning skills. Use eye contact; stay focused, and display encouraging expressions. Repeat and restate what they said in order to confirm your interpretation. “I think what you are saying is…. is that what you meant?” A few rules to remember: you can’t talk and listen at the same time; you can’t listen when you are thinking about what you will say next, and you can’t listen if you have already decided.
- 4.Disagree diplomatically. Start with a positive or an area of agreement. Acknowledge the right to differ. As you listen, separate facts and feelings. Always check your interpretation. “I’m not sure I agree. That may be true. Could it be that? My experience says that it could also be….”
- Speak, as they like to be spoken to. Listen and observe to see your boss or co-workers’ communication style, and then mirror it. Are they direct and decisive…Open and friendly…Formal and cautious…Relaxed and informal…Reserved and accurate… Colorful and expressive…Brief and assertive…Appreciative and personal?
Collaboration: Reinforcing productive cooperation
- Set the tone. Be cooperative, accepting and open. Say things like “How can I help? I was wrong. What’s the best we can do? I could use some help. What will it take? We’ll do it better next time. You’re right. Good point. I appreciate…Thank you for …” What do you think?”
- Promote give and take. Facilitate information sharing with your listening and questioning skills. Meet with people in private from time to time. Do not get upset or defensive when people surface problems; thank them for both good and bad news. So that you don’t influence opinions, ask for others’ ideas or news before you give yours, and ask people how things could be better. See complaints as an opportunity to improve.
- Be helpful, and also set limits. Know how to say “no” diplomatically. How: Restate the request, decline and give a reason. Restate the request, decline and suggest an alternative. Restate the request, say what you can do. Accept, but with conditions.
- Deal with mistakes objectively. Focus on the problem, not the person, then get to solutions not blame. Describe situations and behaviors without judgment or being personal. Avoid threats, blaming, superiority, controlling; these cause communication and collaboration to shut down.
- When someone disagrees or criticizes, listen first with no defense. Don’t respond until you are thinking not feeling. Restate their concern or objection; validate their perspective. Ask whether they would support you if those were addressed. Address the concern. Manage your emotional reactions by being aware that you are getting emotional; identify the hot button that has tapped into your emotions. Manage your physical responses as well—breathe slowly and deep; consciously relax your face and limbs. Do what your mother said…count to ten.
Want more? Each year the breakout sessions at the Administrative Professionals Conference organize topics into general program categories called Tracks. One of this year’s Tracks calls for us to Leverage Connections, Communication, and Collaboration. Your ability to produce results is often based on your capacity to work effectively with a diverse group of colleagues. This track includes sessions on gaining insight into yourself and others, teamwork and collaboration, connecting across differences and more effective written communication. Learn more