Does your return to work have to signal the end of the season of goodwill? Or can the efforts you have just made to create peace and harmony at home be extended to your working relationships? Unless your business leaders have consciously reduced growth targets year-on-year or decided to take a margin holiday, your working environment is likely to be highly charged, and relationships between team members put under considerable strain.
You could be forgiven for choosing to keep your head down and keep your own counsel. You may be tempted to smooth over disagreements to keep the peace. In so doing, unintentionally, you could be contributing to a toxic culture in which relationships lack authenticity, things that need to be said are left unsaid, and ambiguity prevails. Worse is to follow in the form of decision paralysis, resentment and disengagement.
So make it a priority at the start of this new year to improve your working relationship with at least one close colleague – perhaps even the one you find most challenging. I have come up with 20 questions to put to them. This isn’t a challenge for the faint-hearted. Some of the questions may even make you cringe as you ask them or wince when you listen attentively to their answers. Embrace this exercise, act on what emerges and it will set both of you up for a more fulfilling and successful 2020.
The questions assume a stereotypical relationship between a line manager and a direct report As I discovered when researching my book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows, relationships among colleagues are contextual. Enlightened managers are more like coaches and many direct reports contribute to their line manager’s leadership. So adapt this guide to suit the quality of relationship that you already have, whether line manager to direct report, coach to player, or peer-to-peer.
In the conversation, commit to give each other your undivided attention. No sudden ringtones, no wrist vibrations alerting you to stand up or breathe deeply, no filling the pauses that might follow your searching questions. Yell with your silence. Be present. Show a genuine curiosity to unearth what your colleague truly cares about. Sprinkle the conversation with open questions and language that will drive more insight: ‘tell me more’, ‘why is that?’, ‘have I understood correctly that…?’.
The first three questions encourage the person to share how they feel about the year that’s just ended. Questions 4 and 5 explore your respective purposes – what you do, why you do what you do, and the values that guide your choices, actions and interactions. Questions 6 to 10 are about how you collaborate. Questions 11 to 16 are about how you communicate and create. Question 17 is about growth and development, and questions 17 to 20 wrap up and let you end on a positive note.
Finally, don’t wait until next year to gift a candid, courageous conversation to more valued colleagues. This guide can be the gift that keeps on giving.
Richard Hytner SLN 2002/3, Adjunct Professor of Marketing, teaches on SEP, Strategic Branding and Market Driving Strategies Programmes at London Business School where he also runs an elective on Creativity in Business; and is the founder and CEO of beta baboon.