Whenever my husband or I do or say something silly or aggravating to one another, we respond with, “That’s why you don’t have any friends.” Truth be told, as a couple we are pretty cocooned by choice, but individually, we each have a small circle of close and trusted friends.
Relationships are important and they serve different purposes in our lives. There are childhood friends, college friends, friends we make in adulthood and sometimes even work friends. Each relationship has its own language, history, and level of comfort. As we get older, and busier, some friendships fall by the wayside and others are placed on hold until we reach out and pick up where we left off.
Not all relationships have to be friendships. A relationship can exist without the liberties that friendship permits and still be comfortable and mutually satisfying. Very early in my career, a woman I worked for told me, “Kym, you have to make people comfortable with you.” My youth and naivety responded with “People are as comfortable with me as they are with themselves.” At the time I didn’t realize what was at stake and at some level, I didn’t care. Over time I learned the importance and the value of comfortable and mutually satisfying relationships on the professional front.
Leadership cannot exist without strong relationships.
Even if, as a leader, you have solid technical skills, your ability to form strong relationships in your team, with your peers, and other key stakeholders is also important, especially during difficult times. The higher you rise, the less important your technical skills become. In a conversation with a COO who had acquired a new team, the leader expressed concern about not having the same level of expertise that each of her direct reports possessed. I shared that at her level, leadership is more focused on coaching, removing obstacles, and providing resources. I stressed the importance of being curious about the concerns and challenges of her leadership team. I encouraged her to use inquiry and conversation to get the information needed to support, build rapport, and strengthen her relationships. A lack of rapport can minimize comfort, which will keep your team from sharing valuable information and feedback that leads to better informed decision-making.
At the organizational level, when relationships are not as strong as they could be, you may struggle to play on the organizational stage.
Your impact as a leader may be minimal without loyal and trusted colleagues. This will result in the absence of the network needed to gain resources for your team. Maintaining mutually beneficial relationships can have enormous returns, both in terms of providing you with a supportive network to buffer the negative effects of stress, as well as to promote a positive team and corporate culture.
Here are a few strategies for helping you build comfortable and mutually satisfying relationships:
Building resilient and trusting relationships with all people, regardless of your feelings toward them, is crucial to navigating the political landscape of your workplace. Identify the people with whom you have not developed a strong relationship. Think about the areas of these relationships you’d like to improve. Be honest with yourself about what you have done to earn their trust. Capture your thoughts in writing about what you think each person needs from you. Then, create an opportunity to chat and confirm your perspective. Once you acquire information about alignment and/or gaps in your thinking take action to support one another in achieving common goals and needs.
How approachable are you?
Consider asking colleagues and team members to rate your level of approachability on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (High). Ask them to share an explanation of their rating. Additionally, ask their thoughts on tangible ways you could increase your approachability.
You might also want to consider whether or not you have an open-door policy. This involves more than being accessible. Leaders can sometimes lose sight of how their behavior can figuratively “close their door.” If people feel like they are bothering you, they will be uncomfortable approaching you. Determining whether you are approachable requires a thorough examination of your leadership behaviors. Do you actively listen, or check your phone/email when someone is talking? Do you demonstrate patience with workplace annoyances or interruptions? Do you actively participate in company events, groups, and informal gatherings?
Recognition Goes a Long Way.
Use simple acknowledgments to reward people for achievements, meeting challenges, and upgrading their skills and knowledge. Be mindful of how people like to receive their recognition; public acknowledgement doesn’t resonate with everyone. Create opportunities to improve your interpersonal skills by walking around the office (when people are there) and engage in conversation as a management practice to help you understand your colleagues. Not only will these opportunities help expose you to the type of recognition people prefer, but they will also create encounters that increase the comfort people experience when interacting with you.
I’m always interested in knowing how your application of these tips works for you. Feel free to keep me updated through direct messaging or the comment section of this post, so others can learn from your experience.
Let’s talk about Relationships that fortify and build community.
If you are a woman of color in a senior leadership role with an interest in having your own personal cabinet of thought partners and a safe space for trusted and confidential conversations, reserve your seat in my October 19th Masterclass. It will be a conversation worth your time. Learn more about the Masterclass.
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