Making working relationships work [Mind Gym]

I recently discovered some of the interesting work that the folks at the Mind Gym are doing, through a tip from a colleague. In a domain that’s rife with dogma and (not-really-)”best practices”, I found their approach, which is deeply rooted in behavior science and real data, to be a breath of fresh air.

The content I’m about to cover in today’s post, comes from a piece I’ve spent quite a bit of time noodling on:

Do Managers need to be liked? [Webinar]

The webinar covers the “7 talents of effective managers” and spends the majority of the time on one talent that matters more than the rest — “Relate: the ability to create, strengthen and manage relationships of all types”.

Once I got over my general excitement with the research-based approach and the beauty of the framework, I found myself getting a bit stuck on what seemed like a critical assumption that is implied by it: that “management” is a role, and that the abilities and responsibilities covered by this framework are therefore the responsibilities of people in a “manager” position. While this may seem like a trivial/obvious assumption to most people, many organizations these days are experimenting with operating models in which the traditional managerial responsibilities are handled in a more distributed fashion. If this framework requires those responsibilities to be grouped under a single role (embodied by a single person), then its applicability is limited — which makes it significantly less interesting.

But then I decided to test that assumption. I asked myself: what portion of the content will stop making sense, if rather than associating these abilities with the manager role, we’ll generalize further and make these the required abilities from everyone in the organization?

To my pleasant surprise, most of it still made a lot of sense. The guidance they offer on how to make working relationship work, for the most part does not rely on an asymmetrical manager/employee dynamic. Most of it is just as applicable in a peer/peer dynamic.

Even with this big roadblock out of the way, there are still aspects of this approach that I’m still working through. But nonetheless, it’s a great reference point to triangulate one’s point-of-view to and is, as always, best read with a critical eye:

1. Remember why you’re here — we are here to accomplish something together, the relationship is not a means to address our egoic needs (be liked, be the hero, etc.) or an end in and of itself.

2. Keep emotional control — self-regulation trumps all. Identify your emotional triggers and the “alarm calls” that can help you tell that you’re in a triggered state (fight/flight/freeze).

3. Set the boundaries — formally and informally contract to create the right level of intimacy, involvement and control. Those of you who’ve been following this publication for a while, would identify this as a very good example of using polarity management to avoid being too distant or too close:

4. Reinforce and repair the boundaries — we’re all humans. And we all have psychological needs. Sometimes, as a result of that, or other reasons, either we or the other person will overstep the boundary we’ve set up. It’s our responsibility to proactively repair those ruptures.

5. Build trust over the long haul — adopt a long-term attitude. Focus on connectedness, credibility and consistency.