Best Practice

Is there an art to mastering workplace relationships with anyone?

Health Industry Hub | July 14, 2023 |

In a world where work relationships may feel like a game of chance, there’s an approach that promises to change the game entirely. According to Michael Bungay Stanier, author of the best-selling book How to Work with (Almost) Anyone you have the power to actively shape your work relationships and greatly impact your happiness and success.

Bungay Stanier highlights the detrimental effects of frustrating working relationships, which can leave individuals feeling checked out, lacking confidence, and even experiencing physical symptoms such as nausea and sleeplessness. These negative dynamics can lead to disengagement, demotivation, and a sense of ineffectiveness. It’s no wonder that people often find themselves plagued by self-doubt, stress, and a lack of appreciation in such situations.

Research reveals that sociopaths, who lack empathy and manipulate others, make up only 1% of the general population. However, their presence is more significant at higher levels of organisations, with CEOs accounting for 3-10% of this group. This raises concerns about the impact such individuals can have on work relationships and organisational culture.

On the flip side, successful relationships with managers, colleagues, or collaborators can have a profoundly positive impact. Individuals in these healthy relationships feel valued, trusted, empowered, and supported. They describe a sense of connection, limitless potential, and being heard and understood. These uplifting relationships inspire individuals to go the extra mile, resulting in increased productivity and overall satisfaction.

John Gottman, the renowned founder of The Gottman Love Lab, conducted research showing that within a mere 30 seconds, he could determine the longevity of a relationship. One key indicator was the ratio of positive to negative acts. Moreover, Gottman discovered that 70% of issues within a relationship were perpetual, suggesting that they might never fully resolve.

“So, imagine if you could improve 30% of all your working relationships,” proposes Bungay Stanier. By focusing on building the Best Possible Relationship (BPR) with key individuals such as your boss, team members, colleagues, collaborators, prospects, and customers, you can transform challenging work relationships into bearable and workable ones.

Bungay Stanier identifies three key attributes necessary for cultivating a Best Possible Relationship:

Safety: Foster Psychological Safety
Creating an environment where individuals feel safe and wholly accepted is crucial. Psychological safety, as described by Professor Amy Edmondson, encourages openness and allows for risk-taking without fear of negative consequences.

Vitality: Embrace Bravery
To foster productive relationships, individuals must embrace psychological bravery. They should feel invigorated by tackling challenging tasks and working through difficult conversations. By embracing discomfort, growth and progress become possible.

Repairability: Fixing the Cracks
Even the best working relationships can experience turbulence. However, instead of letting damage remain unresolved, successful relationships prioritize repair. They acknowledge and address issues promptly, working together to rebuild trust and strengthen the connection.

To build these Best Possible Relationships, Bungay Stanier suggests asking key questions:

What is your best?
Discover what tasks and responsibilities fulfil you and bring out your best work. By identifying the work that triggers your flow state and showcases your abilities to others, you can seek more opportunities aligned with your strengths and passions.

Reflect on the positive aspects of highly functioning relationships
Discuss the elements that made previous working relationships great. By understanding what contributed to their success, you can replicate those aspects in current and future relationships.

Address the frustrating aspects of a working relationship
Openly discuss the actions or behaviours that have caused frustration in past relationships, including your own contribution to any dysfunction. By acknowledging personal accountability, individuals can gain insights into their own responses under stress and work towards preventing similar issues from arising again.

Taking an active role in shaping work relationships can lead to immense personal and professional growth. By focusing on creating safe environments, embracing bravery, and actively repairing damage, individuals can cultivate the Best Possible Relationships and ultimately improve their overall wellbeing and success in the workplace.

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