• September 2011

How To Boost Your Relationship Management IQ

By Alice Waagen, PhD
President and Founder
Workforce Learning

When I am asked to list the attributes most critical to a manager’s success, I immediately cite the ability to build and maintain positive work relationships.

It’s clear that those who fail to cultivate strong relationships with those around them may be successful in executing immediate tasks and activities—but ultimately they will struggle with having sustainable results.

How to Increase Your Relationship Management IQ

The two components that form the foundation of our connectedness are respect and trust.

Given the economic woes we’re all struggling with, it’s tough not to feel like there isn’t enough to go around.

This climate, however, makes it even more imperative to build strong relationships. Here are some ways to make good connections, and know that life is good:

1. Trust means that I deliver what I have promised. It means that my actions and words are always in alignment. If I say, “I support flexible work schedules to allow my staff to have a better work–life balance,” then I don’t then deny leave for a family emergency or schedule an important meeting late on Friday when staff with compressed work schedules won’t be able to attend. A trusted person speaks and acts to their values. Their behavior does not surprise people because they consistently express views that align with past actions.

2. Respect means I value the relationships I form. When I value a relationship, I seek to behave in ways that support the relationship, even though I may not always agree with the other person’s specific values and beliefs. I consciously monitor my behavior to avoid offending my relationship partners or appearing to negate their belief system.

3. Thus the equation of trust plus respect yields a positive work relationship. A manager, by definition, achieves results by directing the work of others. The formal direction is usually downward, to staff or team members. But success for a manager involves exerting positive influence not only with direct reports but also with the boss, peers, customers, vendors, and so on. Without the foundation of trust and respect, guidance and coaching will fall on deaf ears and progress will be thwarted.

Let’s put theory into practice.

Following is a question asked of me recently that was clearly about the power of positive relationships.

Question: Last year, I was promoted into my first-ever management role. I like the work and the challenge of managing others, but I have a problem with one of my direct reports. He and I were best buddies before the promotion and now I’m his boss. He keeps asking for time off and has used up all his allowable leave with the end of the year still six months out. When I pointed out that he is out of leave time, he just laughed and said he expects me to cover for him. How can I still be best buddies with this guy and be his boss?

Answer: In a nutshell, you can’t. Getting a promotion into management means more than just a fancy title and (hopefully) a pay increase. It means renegotiating how we work with everyone around us. Each rung up the corporate ladder means a shuffle of the relationship deck: former peers are now direct reports, a former boss may now be a peer. Even customer or client groups may change. And although this seems amazingly obvious, rarely do I find that people consciously plan to re-set all these relationships.

The solution: Wipe the slate clean. However you worked and interacted with this person in the past needs to be evaluated for effectiveness in your new role. Don’t carry any old assumptions or habits into your new job without seriously questioning their purpose and implications. You may have been drinking buddies with this guy for years, but continuing the drinking habit might be construed as favoritism now that you are the boss.


About Alice Waagen

Alice Waagen, Ph.D., is president and founder of Workforce Learning LLC, a leadership development company she founded in 1997. In the past three years alone, more than 125 leaders from 24 organizations have graduated from Waagen’s unique leadership-development workshop series. Learn more about Waagen’s work at www.workforcelearning.com.

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