For me, it’s about developing a connection with the other person, and doing this before an issue arises – whether it be an issue relating to performance, or as a result of organisational change.
For example, I managed one member of staff with whom I had nothing in common, with the exception that we both loved “Big Brother”. So every summer, we would catch up every day to talk about the activities and highlights in the house the day before. For 8 – 12 weeks (depending on the length of the series) each year we connected for five minutes each day. For the rest of the year, we didn’t have anything to talk about. Occaisionally we discussed the lastest news we’d heard, and once she asked if she could take a career break if she was successful in becoming a house-mate. But in essence, this connection meant that we had a relationship.
Having an avid interest in “Big Brother” meant that:
a) we both had something to say on the topic – so it wasn’t a one sided conversation;
b) that we wanted to hear to each other’s point of view: we showed respect and “actively listened”;
c) we were able to enter into friendly debates – as the subject matter was neutral. The debates were animated, but in a healthy and mature way.
In essence, by choosing a neutral topic that we were both passionate about meant that we were able to develop our relationship. We didn’t have a superficial relationship, we had a relationship that was able to withstand vivicious and lively interactions.
A few years later, this member of staff’s health started to suffer. It was easier for me to manage this situation due to the relationship we had developed. She knew that I would listen to her, that I was being sincere, or that I was telling her a key piece of information that she needed to consider. She knew this as she had seen me communicate with her in this way before and could trust her gut reactions to my messages.
Trying to develop a relationship once there are already signs that it has broken down is so much harder. The individual will not be able to effectively decode your body language or facial expressions as they have no past history with which to compare this data. They feel in their gut mistrust, anxiety or doubt and they have no reference point by which to know whether or not these are the appropriate feelings to have. I would still urge leaders / managers in these situations to continue to build or restore the relationship, but be aware that it will take much longer to reach a place where there is mutual trust and respect.
Every day at work try and “touch base” with every member of your team. Start off with a simple “hello”; asking how they are and what they’ve been up to. Before long, you will both discover something that you have in common. Use this to develop a special connection between you and your member of staff. Developing a relationship with your staff should be this easy.