Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

13 Options to Improve Your Work Relationships

A new year always presents a new opportunity to make a change.

We might like to think that if we just do a good job, and have technical proficiency in our field of expertise, it is enough to be recognized and rewarded. Unfortunately, many of us have learned that knowing how to communicate well – with bosses, coworkers, clients, and customers – is the real key to success. The people who can get their voices heard and influence others to their way of thinking are often the ones who are able to advance their careers more easily. In any event, everyone can benefit from improving their interpersonal skills and behaviors.

As we move into 2013, a new year always presents a new opportunity to make a change we’ve wanted to make. If you want to focus on improving interpersonal skills, try any one of the “13 for ’13” approaches here and see if it works for you:

1. Learn to wait – 72 hours or more. If you tend to be an impulsive person and respond right away when you observe behavior you don’t like, try sitting with your upset for three days before you address it. Yes, that’s three full days. If at the end of that time you still want to address it, you will be more calm and likely more balanced in your approach.

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2. Don’t assume they know what you mean. We assume too much in communication. In fact, in certain industries we love our jargon, but we don’t always agree on what the jargon means! Practice coming to every interaction with the goal of learning about the other person. Ask “why?” to get at what’s underneath their comments. Don’t guess – ask.

3. Be cautiously open. This one may depend on your culture – learn what is acceptable and what is not before you reveal too much. But in order to build relationships, it is give and take. Give others the opportunity to understand who you really are. Longer term, this is how you create trust, loyalty, and respect, and feel more comfortable in your “work skin.”

4. Give up on fixing others. The adage “When you point one finger at another person, four more are pointing at you” is very true. You may be great atseeing others’ flaws and missteps, and you may be tempted to offer unsolicited advice. Resist the urge. Instead, focus on yourself and let them make their own mistakes.

5. Define success. It’s typical to set goals in our business, career, or work relationships. But what we forget to do is to define what success looks like. Take the time to paint the picture of what you want. What kind of culture? What kind of relationships? What do you want to be known for in your workplace? Be clear about where you are going.

6. Practice being the Interested Observer. One of the best ways to improve your workplace relationships is by watching others’ reactions to things you and others say. Think of it as stepping out of the theatre. We all tend to fall into rote responses. Step back to watch what’s going on. You’ll observe “helpful” people, “I feel sorry for myself” people, and “giving” people, to name a few types. Be sure to watch your own approaches and reactions. Do you also react as a “type” instead as an objective listener?

7. Let them finish. An easy way to improve all your interactions is to simply let the other person finish her thought completely. This means not interrupting, adding commentary, or giving feedback until she is completely through talking or asking. Try to refrain from thinking about what you will say next, too.

8. Learn the art of focus. When another person is talking, focus completely on what he is saying and how he is saying it. Don’t let your mind wander to your own judgments or assessments. Use your energy to really listen and seek understanding. The best listeners are usually considered to be really good communicators overall.

9. Connect the dots in your presentations. Whether you’re selling a product or making a pitch for a new initiative in your company, show coworkers, clients, and customers how what you’re saying can benefit them. Remember everyone’s favorite radio station – WIIFM, What’s In It For Me? Don’t make them work to find why they should care; make it clear.

10. Leave labels off. Think about the process that goes on inside our heads. We look out at reality, we filter it, and then we label it. We don’t like staff members who are “like that.” We see someone’s walk and make a judgment about who they are. We watch someone in a meeting and judge their contribution. Stop labeling. Turn your opinions into factual observations wherever you can.

11. Watch your triggers. Who sets you off? Perhaps it’s the coworker who dumps his work and problems in your lap, which puts you in the martyr/rescuer role. Reflect on why this “trigger” keeps popping up, and what role you’re playing in perpetuating the pattern.

12. Don’t unload. Do you unload your problems, ideas, or experiences on someone else without really looking for an interaction? Next time, be clear about what you want from the other person. Advice? Direction? A shoulder to cry on? Don’t vent without a clearly identified goal.

13. Change something. Truth be told, when it comes to interpersonal skills and dealing with others, we could all stand to try something new in our approach from time to time. In the coming year, see if you can identify the communication patterns that cause the most problems in your career and workplace relationships. Make a conscious effort to look at them, work on them, and try a new approach.

Happy communicating in 2013!

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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