Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How To Prevent a Poor Working Relationship

We all have jobs that require working with others.  Occasionally, we discover that the person we’re supposed to work with is reluctant to work with us. Usually it’s a passive resistance, resulting in information withheld or deadlines overlooked. Once in a while it’s a more overt behavior such as verbal outbursts that let you know the person is definitely not inclined to help you. And once in a great while they can be downright obstructive in a sabotage-like manner.
Why can’t they just cooperate? They may feel threatened by your incredible efficiency, intelligence and position of favor by the powers-that-be. They may fear the changes you bring to the group or organization. Or, perhaps they are just terribly overworked.

Whatever the reason, the fact that they are not on the same page with you is frustrating and detrimental to your success. People like this can make work that might otherwise be interesting into something to dread.

It’s naïve to assume that everyone you have to work with is happy to help you. The more likely assumption is that they would be happy to help you if they were not already stressed out from ____________(fill in the blank with anything, it doesn’t make much difference what is stressing them). You can help ease some of their stress by clearly laying the groundwork on how to work together.

Setting the foundation about how best to work with one another will make the whole process easier. It also goes a long way toward modeling how to work well with others who may have different goals and priorities. If you manage a team, that’s an invaluable behavior to demonstrate to them.

Schedule a preliminary meeting with your counterpart to determine the process of working together. Let them know that is exactly what it is: “Meeting to Kick Off a Great Working Relationship”, or if you think that is too corny, just give it a title like “Project Preparation”. Share your agenda: “Define mutual roles, responsibilities, goals and expectations (in regard to the X Project)”.

When you meet, redefine the goal of the conversation clearly and begin with the why. Starting with the why is important. You wouldn’t tell everyone in a room “You must exit quickly right now.” They would look at you with a question in their eyes but wouldn’t budge. But if gave them the reason first: “There is a fire in the building next door. You must exit quickly right now”, then you wouldn’t encounter much resistance at all.

The same rationale should be used with every action you want someone to take. To avoid initial resistance, start with the reason. You might say something like: “I want to prevent potential overlap in our roles and responsibilities. I believe that clearly defining our respective responsibilities and expectations of each other will go a long way to avoid any future misunderstandings and will make working together much easier and more productive right from the start. “I’d like to hear what your responsibilities are (regarding this project) first, and then I’ll share."

Besides responsibilities, make sure to cover roles, goals and priorities. And don’t forget expectations. “I also want to share with you my expectations of myself and hear what yours are.”

What are your expectations of yourself in regard to your roles? What do others expect of you and what do you expect of others? For example, if you are speaking with a manager of another department at your same level with whom you need to work on projects, you might say, “My expectations of myself are that I deliver my part on time and communicate with you weekly about the status of the project. If I let you down on this, please remind me. My expectation of you is that you will be upfront and clear about what you need from me and let me know if I am falling behind your expectations in any way. Will you do that? And I’ll do the same for you.”

By stating your expectations in this regard, you establish yourself as an upfront and open communicator and that is what you also expect from them. Later on when you have to call them on a missed deadline, you’ll approach them with a positive attitude, giving them the benefit of the doubt. They will not be surprised or affronted. You expect them to do the same with you. It is all with the ultimate goal of producing a stellar project together.

Knowing and understanding the other’s behavior style will go a long way toward establishing trust and respect. If they prefer a primarily people-oriented style, they will love the fact that you want to better the relationship and will not feel that it will be a good one unless you have a little bit of personal conversation as well. Start off the meeting by asking about their weekend or family, or by complimenting them. Share a little about yourself. It only takes a couple minutes to establish that personal connection.

If their style is task-first, keep the personal chit-chat to zero unless they open it up. Keep the conversation entirely about the issues at hand, define the results you want from the meeting and wrap up the meeting stating what results were achieved. If they are more analytical than directive, assure them that the information they provided was exactly what you wanted. They will be impressed with your efficiency and preparation.

Instead of plunging in full speed ahead with your projects take the time to establish guidelines for a working relationship. Remember to cover these areas right from the start:

1. Roles and responsibilities
2. Goals
3. Priorities
4. Expectations

As Stephen Covey says, “With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.” Your work will go faster and more smoothly if you take the time to lay a solid foundation with your colleagues.

If this Warehouse 13 video isn't showing up, check it out at http://www.hulu.com/watch/258211

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