Managing relationships at work: it’s not them, it’s you.

Managing relationships at work

Sorry honey, but it probably is you. Not in the sense that you’re a bad person, because I’m sure you’re not but part of the human condition is that we can only see things from our perspective, being super successful in relationships at work is going to take a lot of effort on your part.

In the book Thanks for the Feedback the authors notice a fascinating trait in humans, we are more forgiving of the exact same behaviours in ourself than we are in others. Why? Because we can know our own intentions but we can only see others’ actions.  So when we are late for a meeting, we know that 10 minutes we snatched to call a client and talk them through an issue was more valuable for the people in the room than arriving on time. When Bernard is late, we just see that he wasn’t here for the start of the meeting.

We also see our lateness as an outcome of an event.  We see Bernard’s lateness as a personality trait. 

How can we use this? We can remind ourselves that we don’t have all the information and we can ask questions.  We probably need to work on asking judgement free questions: why are you so disrespectful and always late? Is probably a doorway to a less effective conversation than “I noticed you were late for the meeting on Tuesday, what was happening?”.

Then the equal and opposite point to make here is that the way that we think of ourselves is not the way others perceive us.  I personally struggle with this as my imposter syndrome makes me feel like I’m a 10 year old wearing mummy’s high heels trying to pass myself off as a grown up, whereas others seem to look at me as an experienced manager with a PhD. There is also how our character integrates with other people at work; I may think of myself as the jovial, cheeky one, but a colleague may view me as irritating. Plus our character is situational; behaviours that our colleagues find hilarious in the canteen freak them out when they threaten to appear in meetings.

So what to do? We have to ask questions BUT we have to take responsibility for making it safe for colleagues to be honest with us AND we have to take responsibility for taking the feedback that is useful to us and is about us and separating it from the feedback that is about our colleague.  It’s unhelpful to ask wide questions about “how was I in that meeting” or “am I a good colleague to work with”.  To make it safe for the respondent, tell them why you are asking and then ask them a specific question about a specific moment or interaction.  Something like “I’m looking to improve how I present to clients and I’d really appreciate some honest feedback about this morning’s meeting.  Do you think that was a good way to present the data?”