Relationships: A Context
Building positive, trusting relationships is paramount in every organisation to ensure that communication is flowing, ideas are emerging, people are volunteering to assist and support one another, information is being shared, and collaboration occurs.
In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow reiterates that people need to feel loved and have a sense that they belong to a community. We all want to be liked, wanted, needed and loved, and this is no different to wanting to experience it in a work environment. Toxic working relationships cause distrust, miscommunication, frustration and loneliness. They drain us emotionally, physically and physiologically. They zap our energy, and influence our performance and productivity. They make us dread going to work, and we can even become physically ill from toxic relationships.
We experienced a situation in an organisation a while back where the team was talking to one another but not truly communicating. They were polite, friendly and respectful, but they didn’t listen to each other. They didn’t air the conflict that was very noticeable in the room. Many difficult conversations were swept under the carpet which resulted in the team not being able to make decisions that mattered to the business. Each team leader was bickering about what wasn’t right, and whose fault it was. People were beating around the bush in conversations instead of saying what they truly felt and thought.
Throughout this process, people became cynical and expressed snide remarks that were hurtful. It didn’t take long for trust to break down and relationships to become superficial.
We were called in to help this team to build trusting, positive relationships.
Approach & Process
We engaged with the team over eight months and had to start gently before we were able to go a level deeper. The four key items we focused on were:
- Sharing what they appreciated and valued about one another. This was a new concept for the team as they were accustomed to talking about what was wrong and what someone didn’t do. They had to sit back and recognise the strength of a fellow team member and openly share it. To stretch them a little further, we asked them to articulate how a team member made their work easier.
- Learning to listen and not to interrupt was our next approach. To allow a team member to complete their sentence in full. To hold back on any knee-jerk reaction, and to hear what the person was saying. To make notes of thoughts and ideas that were coming up for the listener and to go back to them when it was their turn to speak.
- Engaging in open-ended questions that allow for clarification and expansion of viewpoints. Not to make any assumptions or judgement about what was being said, but rather to ask to ensure deep understanding. To summarise if needed based on what was heard.
- Express one’s feeling was the last aspect we brought in as this was going to force the team to show vulnerability and humility. Baring their heart on how they felt about a decision or situation. But having learned the previous tools, they were in a strong position to be heard and understood by their colleagues.
This four-step process rebuilt open, candid communication in the team which had a ripple effect on their trust and relationships. I still engage with them on odd occasions and can say that I’m delighted that they have upheld these strategies. Their relationships have remained positive and the once poor level of communication has completely turned around.
If your team is experiencing similar challenges and you would like our support contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a 30 minute free consultation with our expert team.