Leading others requires an ability to connect with the hearts and minds of team members. Inevitably, there will be challenging relationships and rough interpersonal dynamics. As luck would have it, there’s always that one person on the team with whom you struggle to establish a trusting connection. No surprise, we are perfectly imperfect human beings! There are many reasons why the relationship isn’t working. Without even knowing the details, it’s easy to surmise that you share in the dysfunction. Although as the Leader, rest assured, you’d be held accountable for the success or failure of the relationship.
I want to be sure we’re on the same page. I’m not referring to those relationships that are troubled because the person has a performance issue. I’m also not talking about likability. I’m assuming that we’re at the level of maturity where we can relate to be people we may not like. This is all about nurturing healthy and happier manager employee relationships – essential to achieving higher levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, retention and performance.
So you’re frustrated and at your wits end with managing this situation. You’ve tried a few things that haven’t worked. You’re not ready for an intervention or perhaps you don’t have access to those kinds of resources. Before you throw in the towel on what could be one of the more successful working relationships you’ve ever experienced, here’s a suggestion. Try these “7 Steps to Forging a New Path” for the next few (at least 4) one-on-one meetings with the team member in which you are having difficulty connecting. Your goal in working these 7 Steps is to get the relationship on track and create a more effective interpersonal dynamic.
- SCHEDULE THE MEETING. Ensure the meeting is scheduled for the time of day when you are at your best. This is the time of day when you tend to be the most patient, compassionate, and attentive.
- CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE – Your perspective will influence theirs. Get rid of your “war armor” (i.e., defensiveness, anger, annoyance…). In fact, kick off the meeting with a sincere compliment. Preferably noting something the person did or participated in that went well. Be sure you have a good understanding of the matter. You don’t want to risk sounding condescending or insincere. Let the person know your intention: you are trying a different approach with the hope of improving the relationship. This disclosure is important to share at the on-set. It will influence buy-in and boost engagement. You are also letting the person know that you are taking responsibility for where things are and inviting them to participate in the transformation. These actions are powerful influencers towards gaining trust.
- SEEK TO UNDERSTAND. Be authentic in the conversation. Make a point to talk less and listen more. Listen to improve your understanding. Ask probing questions to minimize misunderstanding and assumptions (mindtools.com). Assumptions are dangerous when people have difficulty relating.
- TEACH, COACH, but don’t PREACH. As you are navigating the conversation, be mindful of your tone and approach. Respecting the talent level of your team member will help you know when to coach and when to teach. As will the additional data you’ve gleaned as a result of your probes in Step 3. As a general rule coaching conversations are more appropriate for people with advanced skills, experience, and organization understanding. But coaching is a skill. So make sure you’ve taken the time to hone yours before you begin this journey hbr.com. (Development resources: The Five Minute Coach, L. Cooper & M. Castellino, 2012. Coaching for Performance: Growing Human Potential, by J. Whitmore 4th Edition)
- BE HELPFUL. During the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting, ask this question: “What can I do to better support you?” Your response to whatever is requested should be a firm positive commitment or you will need to negotiate a win-win agreement. A “no” response is not an option as you want to be helpful in a manner that is meaningful to the employee (skillsyouneed.com).
- Take notes during and after each meeting. In addition to capturing the agreements and deliverables, note the overall interaction. Reflect on how the interactions evolved. Be specific about what was better, worse or the same. Note your observations of the person’s behavior and engagement level. Ask your team member for feedback. Specifically, what worked for them? Get clear about what you specifically did and didn’t do to contribute to the outcome.
- REFRAME YOUR APPROACH. Use the learning from this experience to change the way you interact with this team member. Keep doing what worked and ditch what didn’t. As you improve your coaching skills, the quality of the interaction will also improve.
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