Jimmy Bryant

Life Coaching & New Views on Business

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“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a progress and working together is a success.” -H. Ford.

This article reflects our philosophy and was published in Training Journal, January 2001:

WHAT IS AN EFFECTIVE WORK RELATIONSHIP?

In an effective relationship parties listen to understand others’ positions and feelings. The simplest way to understand what is important to another person or to a group is to ask, then listen to the answer. We all know when someone else is really interested in us. The other person is attentive, does not interrupt, does not fidget and does not speak about him or herself. This gives us time to think and feel accepted, rather than be judged. Listening leads to understanding; if you understand someone else fully, then you know what to do to get closer and work better together.

In effective relationships, parties openly express their positions and feelings. Sometimes we expect people – particularly those close to us at home or work – to understand what we want and to give us what we need intuitively. This is not a realistic aspiration. People are so complicated and react to events in such different ways that even when they have lived together for 60 years they can still surprise each other. We need to say what we need and to express how we feel. By doing this we are more likely to get what we want, rather than expecting someone to notice what we want, then waiting for that person to give it to us.

In order to make our relationships more effective, we should treat ourselves and each other with respect. Respect is the core of any good relationship. We show respect by listening to the other person and by trying to understand how they view things. Quickly forming judgements based on prejudice is the complete opposite of respect. You can respect people (even if you find their behaviour difficult to understand) by acknowledging that they are doing the best they can when their circumstances and history are taken into account.

Respect is the foundation for a strong relationship – and this means respecting yourself as well as others. If you feel good about yourself, it is much easier to see the good in people and treat them with respect.

Another key to forming effective relationships is to face differences directly. Differences between people are interesting. In a conversation where each person listens to the others, you may each discover a new truth that integrates (say) two opposing perspectives. This is more rewarding than the alternatives – for example, withdrawing, fighting, grumbling to someone else or plotting. Learning to face differences takes time and can be uncomfortable, but confronting and attempting to understand them is a good, stretching discomfort.

Work towards solutions where both parties win. I believe profoundly that win–win solutions are possible and they should always be our goal. If we both feel we have gained from resolving a difference, then we will be more willing to co-operate again in future. This builds exciting and satisfying relationships.

WHAT CAN HELP?

In exploring what helps us to build effective relationships, perhaps I can pass on some advice that has been drawn from personal experience and from some of the training workshops in which I have been involved.

1. At least one party should decide the relationship is important.

If I decide my relationship with someone is important, then I will invest time and energy to understand that person’s needs and to deal with anything that gets in the way. (It’s easier if the other person thinks it’s important too, but not essential.) Even if I try and fail, I will know that I gave it my best shot and can gain comfort from that.

2. Learn to listen effectively, and without judging.

Effective and non-judgemental listening will help you to understand the other person or people. When someone listens to you, both your own sense of worth and the worth of the listener increases. Judging another person almost always creates distance and defensiveness.

3. Meet people informally, so they feel comfortable raising issues that are important to them.

Most people feel more relaxed in informal settings. If you are intending to meet with someone with the specific purpose of developing your relationship with that person, think about holding the meeting in a setting in which he or she will feel comfortable. When people are relaxed they are more able to speak about what is important to them.

4. Develop a culture whereby people can express their feelings.

We create relationships by sharing thoughts and feelings. When we express happiness, joy, contentment, anger, irritation, sadness or fear we feel more vulnerable, but we can also feel more connected. Unexpressed feelings can get in the way of building closeness. It is difficult for two people to have a useful conversation if one of them is unaware that the other is angry about something the he or she said or did. There is a good chance that this will result in a cold or aggressive atmosphere when these two people meet, and this will get in the way. Organisational cultures that encourage people to connect can generate a passionate commitment to achieve wonderful things together.

WHAT GETS IN THE WAY

A number of things can get in the way of forming an effective relationship, including:

* a history of mistrust or stereotyping

* blaming the other party for a difficult relationship

* focusing on the task and excluding the feelings and needs of others

* unclear objectives, roles and expectations of each other.