One of the biggest variables in any business environment - the people who work there - is often the reason for the many highs and lows that we experience at work. Colleagues and customers can make our day run smoothly by providing support, guidance, encouragement and fun!
On the other hand they can be disruptive, argumentative or just negative and drain our energy along the way.
People often think that the key to managing or influencing other people is to control how they think and behave through influence, argument, force or position.
Sadly, this is not true! No matter how hard you try you cannot change other people. What you can do is use the power of your own actions and behaviour, including how you respond to them, to change the dynamics of the relationship.
Many interpersonal issues at work have their roots in office politics. In its best form office politics means using power and social networking within the organisation to make changes that benefit the organisation or individuals who work there. I have experienced office politics working to positive effect, by allowing and encouraging debate and opinion to flourish, but this only occurs in a truly open and honest environment.
Sadly, what we usually hear about is when office politics happen in a not-so-healthy environment. When this happens individuals will try to score points, or damage reputations, for their own gain. It is easy to become absorbed into office politics even when we try not to. For many it can have little or no affect on their working day but for some it can turn a really good job into a nightmare.
Understanding relationship management
So, how do you manage working relationships and office politics?
Should you focus on your job or try to make sense of what is happening around you so that you can ‘play the game.’ I’m not a fan of manipulating people or situations but do agree that you need to understand:
- the culture of the organisation you work for;
- who the key ‘players’ are and how to get on with them; and
- what behaviours are considered acceptable for a successful career.
How to improve your interpersonal skills
Building a positive and productive relationship with people at work doesn’t take that much effort!
First, you need to understand the dynamics of the various relationships you have at work: with your manager, your colleagues, customers and suppliers. To do this you need to know:
- Who has ownership and responsibility for the various tasks and decisions?
- Who are the networkers and relationship builders?
- Who is good at supporting, coaching and developing other people?
- Who is seen as a good / bad role model?
Learning everything you can about the people you work with, especially if you have common interests, people or experiences, has a positive effect and helps build relationships.
Second, you will be more successful at managing relationships when you have a better understanding of yourself and by developing your own interpersonal skills.
As I said at the beginning - you may not be able to make other people change their behaviour but you do have control over your side of the relationship - so it makes sense to start with there.
- Be aware of how you respond to other people - what part of the integration triggers a positive, or negative, reaction in you.
- How good are your listening skills - do you really hear what the customer is saying or are you just waiting to speak?
- Do you treat people the same or do you have ‘favourites’ who get your best attention.
- Are you a team player? Do you support your colleagues when they need it?
There are many things you can do to build strong, valuable working relationships. So don’t wait for it to happen - make it happen!!