Developing Strong Work Relationships

How do you talk about important topics with other managers whose specialty, agenda and physical location make it difficult to speak your mind freely and clearly?

Too often, distance and conflicting interests wreak havoc on candid dialogue and teamwork. As a result, peer managers end up competing for scarce resources rather than working together to contribute to the bottom line. Here are three tips for bridging the gap that often separates departments and their managers:

1. Fight your battles in private. Gossip is perhaps the No. 1 relationship killer among peers. When people disagree with one another, they may bad-mouth their colleague to others. That?s especially easy to do when your peer?s office is on a different floor?or in a different building?and his or her direct reports are nowhere within earshot.

This kind of behavior is disloyal, and it also harms the relationship. The more you gossip about your peers, the less likely you?ll be to ever have an honest relationship.

So, if you have a bone to pick, talk to your colleague in private. Ask for a brief meeting and explain that you want to deal with a problem before it spins out of control. Discuss your concerns clearly but tentatively, and then ask your peer for his or her view on the matter. If you don?t feel comfortable doing that, then keep your gripes to yourself.

LESSON: If you want better relationships, never air your dirty laundry in public.

2. Initiate opportunities to relate. Complex topics deserve real-time, two-way communication. If you can?t meet face to face with your peer, then talk on the phone. Don?t let the ease of sending e-mails replace genuine dialogue.

Most importantly, don?t sit back and wait for distant colleagues to come to you. Take the initiative. Ask for time to discuss issues in person. Then, get out of your office and go to their location. If the topic is likely to take more than several minutes, suggest a chat over lunch. That way, you get face time and can get your peers? input without draining their work time.

LESSON: If you want better relationships, seek face time with your colleagues.

3. Become a master of crucial conversations. Many people believe they have to make a choice when discussing a problem with a peer manager: They can either be blunt and speak the truth?thus putting their relationship at risk?or they can avoid ruffling the other person?s feathers by never sharing their honest opinion.

Many people don?t realize that when the stakes are high, they can be both honest and respectful?even though opinions may differ and emotions run strong. It?s in these pivotal, crucial conversations that relationships are either damaged or preserved.

Valued leaders are quick to speak their minds, but when they do so, they?re always respectful. When they disagree, they share their honest views, while taking care to use tentative language. Here are a few tips to remember when you find yourself in a crucial conversation with a peer manager:

? Listen for hesitance. Some individuals may be reluctant to honestly express their differing views. A peer?s minor pause or faint praise for an idea should sound an alarm that indicates he or she doesn?t agree but isn?t speaking up.

? Choose tentative language. Express your views firmly, but soften the blow of excessive advocacy by employing a curious tone and tentative language. Avoid the temptation to oversell, which will shut down others? opposing views or opinions. Instead, present your ideas as ideas, notas demands.

? Invite differing views. Allow your peers to disagree with you or offer opposing opinions by playing devil?s advocate. After you express your views, make it safe for others to honestly express their opposing views by inviting different opinions. Say, ?What might I have missed here?? or ?What do we need to do differently to make this work for you??

LESSON: If you want better relationships, learn to listen and then speak respectfully when conversations become crucial.

Kerry Patterson is the co-author of three best-sellers: Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations and Influencer. He is also a speaker and consultant, and co-founder of VitalSmarts, which focuses on corporate training and organizational performance.