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Webinar report: Managing up and sideways

“Work on the broader relationships, not just the obvious ones”

October saw the fourth and final edition of our 2022 Positive Relationship webinars with Joanna Gaudoin.

For this one the subject – as chosen by you, in the in-house legal community – was Managing up and sideways. Joanna talked us through some powerful techniques for building great relationships with people at all levels in our organisations.

An expert in this field, Joanna established Inside Out Image in 2011 to help people develop the specialist people skills that are rarely taught in formal educational settings. Joanna’s clients include HSBC, Forsters LLP, Willis Towers Watson, Joelson Law, AAT and Mastercard.

Good relationships matter. Few of us need convincing that they pave the way for mutual learning, improved performance, a harmonious work atmosphere, creative problem solving and much more besides.

The question is, how can we consciously influence the quality of our relationships? For many of us, this applies predominantly in connection with people senior to us. But managing in all directions is vital to our success and happiness at work.

Twelve issues – and how to deal with them

To give us a roadmap through this often grey area, Joanna set out twelve issues that determine how good (or bad) working relationships can be – and some invaluable advice.

Issue 1: Where there’s no relationship

Too often people simply don’t have – or find – the necessary time to build relationships at work. This could be because they’re more task focused than relationship focused or because they simply don’t think they have the time. However, investing in relationships takes time but pays off in the long run. The starting point is to decide who you need to have good relationships with and give them a traffic light rating where:

  • Green means you have a satisfactory rapport at the moment;
  • Amber means the relationship needs work but not urgently; and
  • Red means you need to work on this relationship immediately; it is not necessarily negative, you just may not know one another.

Issue 2: Misunderstandings, assumptions and beliefs

Recognise that what we believe/assume determines how we behave. And that, in turn, our behaviour influences that of other people. The circle is complete when we then accept that the behaviours of those people will then reinforce our beliefs.

Like a hamster wheel, this circle will keep you exercised but rarely get you anywhere. Changing a relationship sometimes means stepping off the wheel to challenge your assumptions, reassess your beliefs and resolve misunderstandings.

Issue 3: Failing to consider our own role in a situation

If you’re feeling hard done by or out of the loop, is it all somebody else’s fault? Play the situation back and look for clues in your own behaviour. Could someone be reacting to something you did or said? Have you created a preconception that has influenced their behaviour?

Almost everything we do in the workplace has an impact – either positive or negative – on how people see us.

Issue 4: Other people’s perspectives

Another technique when developing a relationship is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world as they do. If your experiences were the same as theirs, would you see things the same way they do? Are they under pressure or rushed? Is your number one priority their most pressing issue?

Of course, we need to be focused on our own goals, however it always pays to consider where other people are coming from when we make demands on their time.

Issue 5: Defensiveness, critique and closedness

How well do you give and receive feedback? Do you find people are defensive or closed in some situations? What emotional reactions are you receiving and giving out?

Often the key to managing our emotions comes down to how well we listen to people. When we’re busy, we don’t always listen as well as we should. Be mindful of the five levels of listening:

  1. Ignoring, not even pretending to listen.
  2. Just pretending to listen and gesturing.
  3. Selective, listening but actually waiting to speak.
  4. Attentive and sympathetic listening.
  5. Active listening – feeling what the other person feels.

Issue 6: Not taking time to react

When you’re given important news or a request, take time to react and respond. Initially you’ll have an emotional response and you’ll need a little time for your logical response to kick in.

It’s perfectly OK to ask for time to respond in this sort of scenario – and you may thank yourself for buying time to avoid a response you’ll regret!

Issue 7: Appreciating your colleagues’ focus

As we mentioned above, be aware of the difference between task focused and relationship focused people. The other dimension to consider is whether someone is introverted or extroverted. Both impact how you should engage with them.

If you feel you’re task focused, consider what you could learn from relationship focused colleagues – and vice versa.

Issue 8: Appreciating your colleagues’ working styles

It’s easier to manage relationships with colleagues when you fit in with their working styles. For example, is your boss a morning person or an afternoon person? Do they like the detail behind the issue you want to talk about or just the headline facts? Do they want an email or a face-to-face meeting?

Get to know all your colleagues’ working styles and frame your dealings with them accordingly.

Issue 9: Appreciating your colleagues as people

Whether it’s a team mate, your boss or your boss’s boss, a little recognition goes a long way. This could involve thanking them for something, acknowledging their part in a great achievement or simply singing their praises to the people they manage.

Remember, even people senior to you need to feel valued. They’re human.

Issue 10: Vulnerability and humility

You’re human too. Which means you’ll sometimes make mistakes and not always have all the answers. That’s fine. Be open about this without being defensive or overly apologetic.

It’s fine to own up to mistakes. And asking for time to find the answers people need trumps blagging your way through a conversation every time.

Issue 11: Communication

Communication has always been a vital factor in relationships. It’s become even more so in the increasingly hybrid working environment. Even if you have no burning issues to discuss, aim for regular contact with your colleagues. Think too about the outcomes you want from this contact and always set time limits on meetings and video calls.

Issue 12: Lack of trust – or active mistrust

Finally, what do people at work think about you? Has there been any act or omission on your part that could have given them a reason to mistrust you? If so, think about how to repair that relationship and build real credibility.

Strengthening the connection, doing the things you say you’ll do and finding ways to collaborate with them are all good places to start.If you’d like further support from Joanna, visit Inside Out Image or email Joanna.gaudoin@insideoutimage.co.uk.

If you’d like to suggest topics or themes for future CLL webinars, contact us here.