You Can’t Have Success At Work (or in Life) Without This One Thing

February 21, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed

“Coming together is a beginning; staying together is progress, working together is success.” ~ Henry Ford

Everyone wants success. And success comes from results.

No matter what the pursuit, be it for profit or non-, a new product or collaboration, whether you are selling a house or developing your leadership team, or whether you are a new startup or long standing stalwart of business, results are the name of the game.

But what people often overlook is that results and relationships are two sides of the same coin. In fact the quality of the results you get is a direct output of the quality of the relationships you’ve built.

Here is how the process works.

Results come from actions

If you want results, you have to take action. But how many times do you take action without getting the results that you want?

The reason why people don’t get the results they want is often because they have not spent the time developing the required relationships or the shared understanding that is required to achieve those results.

Instead, they charge straight into action without the necessary relationship equity, the trust, and the shared agenda needed to help facilitate their action. This is particularly evident when people take on a new role or project. They charge in to objectives and targets and get busy at work without realizing that the time spent ensuring everyone is on the same page will triple or quadruple their productivity.

Relationships generate opportunities

When you’ve got good relationships in play then things become possible. Out of these possibilities, real opportunities emerge.

I was recently speaking to a police officer about community policing. His approach and how he builds trust with young people is a perfect example of how relationships lead to possibilities which lead to opportunities for action and results.

He told me that he often starts with visiting schools in plain clothes and when there has not been an incident. The police uniform is such a strong symbol of power that it becomes a barrier to authentic relationship building. This approach makes it ‘possible’ for him to have presence on the campus without ringing alarm bells creating ‘opportunities’ to listen and hear. Over time, the kids get used to his visits and begin to think: “maybe he really cares about us,” which in turn helps to build trust, a cornerstone of strong relationships. It is these relationships, the officer explained, that have helped him keep his community safe because they become a valuable source of information and because he is able to design an alliance with the community through the relationships.

It is the depth of his relationships that determine the quality of his results.

So what do strong relationships look like?

When people at work disagree, two outcomes are in doubt:

1. What decision will be reached?

2. How will we feel about working together in the future?

The first question involves the substantive issue, how the content of the dispute will be resolved. The second involves the relationship issue, how the individuals will deal with each other as people. You can win at one level and lose at the other—get what you want substantively, yet make an enemy. Or vice-versa—you may not obtain what you want substantively, yet strengthen a working relationship. To disentangle the two issues, explicitly separate your working relationship with the other person from whether you agree with or approve of that person’s viewpoint. That means thinking, “I will treat this person well whether or not I like what that person thinks or does.”

The relationship is more important than the issue or problem at hand.

Strong relationships are based on mutual trust and respect. They create shared understandings. They declare when there is a breakdown and repair accordingly. They complete the past before moving to the future. They put people first. That means thinking about other people and acting on those thoughts.

How do you develop strong working relationships?

Harvard professors Roger Fisher and Scott Brown provide several suggestions in their book Getting Together: Building a Relationship That Gets to Yes. Here are some of the major points they make:

  1. Separate relationship issues from substantive issues.
  2. Be unconditionally constructive.
  3. Beware of partisan perceptions.
  4. Balance reason with emotion.
  5. Inquire, listen, and understand.
  6. Consult before deciding.
  7. Be trustworthy.
  8. Use persuasion, not coercion.
  9. Accept and deal seriously with people.

A Final Word

Remember the old adage that being nice to people on the way up is important because you’ll likely meet the same people on the way down. That means maintaining a decent working relationship with your colleagues even though you may not like what someone does. The relationship doesn’t imply that you agree or approve of that person’s behavior. Despite your disagreements, you can keep open lines of communication with people you regard as difficult or even as enemies. That’s the only way improvement can ever occur. It’s possible and sensible to disentangle substantive and relationship issues because at the end of the day, the possibilities you generate in your work (and in life) are as ‘big’ as the relationships you build.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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