We were talking about building relationships in a personal leadership seminar I was teaching and Rachel brought up an interesting issue. She had been working hard to build a positive work relationship with one of her colleagues, but despite her best efforts, she didn’t feel that she had made much progress. She felt a bit frustrated and discouraged. She’d done everything she could think of, including grand gestures to win this person over, and despite his “thanks for the help” he always reverted back to the same apparent lack of interest. She was wondering what she was doing wrong and if it was a hopeless case.
I bet that many of you have found yourself in similar situations. It’s tricky isn’t it? You need to have a positive relationship with the person. You have to work closely with them. Maybe your livelihood depends on them. But it seems as if you are in a one way relationship. You are the only one putting in the effort. You don’t want to come off as fawning or worse yet, as a looking like a stalker, but you need to work closely with this person. The quality of your relationship with them will affect your ability to get your job done. How much energy should you put into it? When should you throttle back and devote your time and resources elsewhere?
I think I’ve been to that rodeo once or twice. Let me offer a few hard-won ideas to try to put the situation into perspective.
#1: Don’t take it personally – remember it’s more about them than you
It can be natural to ask yourself “what’s wrong with me?” when a relationship seems one-sided. It’s important to recognize that their apparent lack of interest may be much more about them than about you. People are wired differently. We have different personalities, preferences and needs. Rachel is a people person. She has a need to create connections. She comes across as warm and caring and I suspect that she goes out of her way to help people. It’s a natural part of her personality. Many of us have a different operating system. I am more naturally task focused than people oriented. I like people just fine, but my instinctive reaction in group discussions or when solving a problem is to attack the task or the issue as if there is a right and a wrong answer. I intuitively ask questions and advance ideas to try to get to that “right” answer. I’ve learned over the years that while I may genuinely like and care for someone, my approach can come across as cold or uncaring to someone like Rachel. I’ve come to realize that the people side is always part of the equation and that in order to solve problems and make decisions in the world of work I have to not only give it equal attention, I have to demonstrate my interest and caring in every conversation. It took me a long time to reach that point. It doesn’t sound as if Rachel’s colleague has gotten there yet.
#2 Identify what type of relationship you want
What does a positive work relationship mean to you? Think about our ultimate relationship commitment – marriage. There are different types of marriages, from the couple who do everything together, to the pair who cohabitate and co-parent but have little emotional intimacy. Marriages come in different flavors, as do business relationships. Here are some of the different types and levels of work relationships:
- Contact Relationship – You and the other person have met. You know one another’s names and (maybe) faces, but you have low levels of interaction, intimacy and trust.
- Exchange Relationship – From time to time you need something from one another. Trust is relatively low so you operate on a quid pro quo basis conducting informal negotiations to exchange resources. There’s little contact or intimacy beyond those resource exchanges.
- Transactional Relationship – You work together on a regular basis. Your interactions are task focused, but there is little social or emotional connection beyond the surface. Trust is limited to the transactions that you normally engage in.
- Advisory Relationship – You work closely with the other person. The relationship has moderate to high degrees of trust and low to moderate levels of intimacy. Usually the other person has a higher level of positional power or organizational status.
- Collaborative Relationship – You work together closely on a regular or project basis. The relationship is between two equals who recognize their need to work together. Your interactions with the other person are based on both respect for their abilities and a genuine regard. There are moderate to high levels of trust. You may socialize occasionally.
- Partnership – You and the other person both recognize your mutual interdependence and need to work closely together. You know one another well and both feel a responsibility for maintaining the relationship. You socialize together regularly and share a mutual respect and high levels of trust.
Think about one of your relationships. What level of relationship are you hoping for with the person? What level would still be workable? Where is it now? The deeper the level, the more time and energy you will have to devote to building and maintaining it.
#3 Benchmark Where The Relationship Is Now
It’s always important to know where you are starting from, so that you can get to where you want to go. The first step in improving a relationship is to take stock and identify what’s working and what’s not.Take a good look at one of your current relationships. How do you assess its’ current health? Does the other person:
- See you as competent?
- Solicit your advice and give it weight?
- Trust you?
- Like you?
- Openly share information with you?
- Treat you as you want to be treated?
- Support you with others? Do they have your back?
- Forgive you when you make a mistake?
- See you as an equal?
- Give you what you need from them on the business / task issues?
- Give you what you need from them on the socio-emotional issues?
- Seem to truly value the relationship?
How would the other person rate your side of the relationship?
The qualities I’ve described above are characteristic of a pretty deep work relationship – collaborative or partnership. Lower levels of relationships will have fewer of the characteristics. But it’s helpful to identify where you are and where you aspire to be in the relationship
What do you like about your current relationship? What’s going well? Where is it falling short? What would you like to change about the relationship?
#4 Make a conscious decision about how much to invest in the relationship
Deeper relationships require more time and emotional investments. How much are you willing to invest? That decision probably depends in part on how important, and necessary, you see the relationship as being in terms of accomplishing your work goals.
But it’s not just you. Consider the other person. How much are they willing to invest? Relationships are two way streets. If only one side is interested, the depth of the relationship will be limited. Here are some of the requirements for a deeper work relationship:
- A desire for a relationship
- Appreciation of strengths and differences
- Genuineness & transparency
- Positive intent: The classic win / win mindset
The requirements aren’t enough on their own. Think of them as your ticket to the dance. They make a deeper relationship possible, but on their own they don’t ensure a great work relationship.
So does the relationship you’ve been thinking of meet all four of the requirements? If not, consider making some changes. How about the other person? If they’re lacking any of those requirements, consider it a relationship red light. The deeper levels of positive work relationship probably aren’t going to be possible.
Consider what level of relationships is possible and make a decision about how much time to invest. If the requirements are in place for both sides, consider that the green light. Start investing time and effort in moving up the ladder of work relationships.
Question: Have you ever been able to turn around a one way relationship? How? You can leave a comment by clicking here.