“As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way”.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Pushing a rock up a hill all alone, frustrated and exhausted: communication breakdowns are some of the most common issues I hear about as a coach for leaders and teams.
“My boss did it again.”
“I can’t believe she thought she could say that to me.”
“When will they just get on board with this initiative?”
And while we can always look for alignment and reduce toxic behavior, my old public health training also leads me back to prevention: taking steps to stop communication problems before they start.
Effective working relationships – with your boss, your colleagues or your team – are best not left to chance. Instead hoping that things will just go well, it is possible to consciously and intentionally design your working relationships.
Why? Because it sets the parameters on how you will work together, clears assumptions, and creates trust. It can be done quickly, or more formally, depending on the context. Everyone does better when they understand in clear language about the behavior that is expected, as well as what will happen if we fail.
Failure? Why talk about that up front? Because we are human, and it happens. And rather than predicting it, having a plan what we want to do when we mess up will in fact help us be more skillful during those times, perhaps even keep mistakes from getting worse.
1) Think about good working relationships you’ve had before. What made them work?
2) Think about some current frustrations in a current working relationship. If there was a need or request underneath the frustration or complaint, what would it be?
3) For a current working relationship – one that is new, on-going or could use some improvement, consider:
-What type of working culture do you want to have? What will help?
-How do you want to behave when things get difficult or you do not agree?
-What do you want to be able to count on from each other?
4) From all of the above, write out 3 potential working agreements you might want to have. Write them in short concise statements with a verb and a desired action, stating the desired behavior or outcome in the affirmative (“do this” instead of “don’t do this”). Tip: Look for any behaviors that consistently “trip up” your working relationship. What’s the behavior that you could practice so that “trip ups” could be avoided.
5) Have your colleague or team do these steps as well. Share your draft agreements with each other, and jointly craft a new set of 5 agreements that represent your shared ideas. All parties need to understand the meaning and intent of your agreements – what the concrete behaviors are that are expected and how they would be measured or observed.
6) Be sure to articulate how you together will practice and use these agreements, including what you will do when an agreement is broken.
In the Comments below, let me hear from you. Tell me:
1) What’s a “gotta-have” agreement in your working relationships?
2) What’s difference has it made when you’ve designed your working relationships?