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Six Tips for Improving Workplace Relationships

By Heather Joyner posted 06-23-2014 14:19


The strength of our workplace relationships can be put to the test at any time. Whether it’s avoiding the accountability conversation with a low performer; promising to get back to an employee when you know you won’t or telling a salesman the decision is up to the committee, dishonesty erodes trust and damages relationships and contributes to workplace drama. It does not matter whether that relationship is with an employee, a vendor, or a customer.

Here are seven tips for improving all types of workplace relationships by becoming more honest.

1. Stop hinting
How often do you get a call from a salesperson to review a product and you know you aren’t interested but you don’t want to hurt his feelings?  The path of least resistance is to say, “call me back in two weeks” as you pretend to be interested.  Stop pretending to be interested when you would rather just say “no.”  Stop using “being too busy” or not having enough time as a justification for asking someone to keep following up when you already know your answer. If you think you are being nice and they are not getting the hint, try being honest instead and it will save both of you time.

2. Be Safe
If you wonder why people are never really honest with you, ask yourself if you are safe to be honest with. If you blow up every time someone gives you honest feedback you’re setting yourself up for a dishonest relationship.  This is as true for employees as it is for bosses. Get your emotions under control and listen to feedback without the need to pout, cry, or defend. Be willing to hear what someone has to say even if it initially stings your ego. This is one of the most important things you can do to improve workplace relationships and by the way, don’t use honesty as an excuse to express anger. Say what you need to say before you need to blow up to make the point.

3. Pay for Expert Advice
If you would admit it, there are times you really just want approval or acknowledgement rather than honest feedback. If you find yourself defending yourself after asking for advice, ask yourself if you are being honest with yourself about what you really want.

If you find yourself being resentful from taking bad advice, ask yourself why you are relying on the wrong sources for your advice instead of paying an expert.

If you’re just brainstorming or need a sounding board, say so. If you want an opinion ask for it then consider the source.  If you want advice ask an expert and if you aren’t good friends with that expert expect to pay for the advice.

4. Prepare in Advance
Knee jerk reactions happen either from old programming, or from being stressed and getting caught off guard.  Be ready to respond instead of defaulting to reaction. Have a statement in your back pocket for those times when you might otherwise be caught off guard. “Let me think about that,” or “that’s shocking, I want to hear more but need some time to process,” is enough time to gather your thoughts or to decide if you need to re-schedule a time to continue the conversation. Being honest about your need to process the information will help you avoid  kneejerk reactions.  When others feel  safe to share their ideas and comments with you, your relationships strengthen.

5. Question Unclear Motives
If you find yourself getting sideswiped again and again by the same person, it’s time to step up and address the issue instead of avoiding a confrontation. Even though it is best to have positive workplace relationships, don’t let someone use you for a door mat.  Honesty isn’t an excuse for someone to wipe their feet on you. If someone is always “being honest” with you at the expense of respect, a simple question addresses the behavior and lays the cards on the table: “Have I irritated you?” or “Are you angry about something?”  This strategy will result in one of three out comes: an affirmation, an apology or an excuse.

An affirmation helps you address the problem; the apology gets you back on level ground.  If you get an excuse refer back to the previous tip.

6. Forgive
Be honest…sometimes you harbor resentment and pretend that you are OK. Be willing to forgive those who struggle with the concept of honesty. Forgive yourself if you sometimes fail to be honest. You’ve probably been taught that the truth hurts and that approval is more important than honesty.  On the other end of the scale are those who are so unaware that they use passive aggressive tactics to “tell you the truth” mostly when they are offended with you, jealous of you or want to hurt your feelings. Hiding under the guise of honesty gives them the license to do so.  Pray that they become more aware and let it be a mirror of what you don’t want to be.

The foundation for good workplace relationships is authenticity and honest communication. Even when it’s difficult, honesty when offered from the right intention is always worth it.

My mentor and leadership coach:
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011). Marlene’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people to discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.

Marlene’s message is spreading across the country at association meetings, corporate retreats, universities and other venues. If interested in exploring speaking or training opportunities please call 1.888.434.9085