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Author: Elyse, PMP, CPHIMS
February 28, 2011

As project managers we understand the art of influence. We understand the need to motivate and listen, and develop a working productive relationship with our colleagues. We collaborate with the team and find a way to make progress. Often this activity involves active listening more than active speaking.

It is important to empathize with your colleagues, understanding their motivations and concerns. The best way to gain this understanding is to ask, and the listen intently to the answer - don't whip out your iphone. As you listen you will learn a bit more about your colleague, understand better where they are coming from and what they are worried about or glad about. This also helps to build a sense of trust and level sets our expectations.

Another key to effective work relationships is to treat everyone with respect. This often means not doing water cooler gossip discussions on your colleagues. However it is more. There is a sense of purpose in the work we do in healthcare it. Often we are doing the best we can given circumstances and history. So as we discuss what occurs, or what big boulders we have to move on the project, we should never place blame on the existence of the boulder. Boulders and problems come into being over time, and have often been inherited. We should work and making the boulders smaller together.

This brings us to a point in time with differing opinions, the trust not to mindlessly agree. I have seen many a yes-men in my career. I have also seen that phenomenon of a brilliant leader surrounded by several yes-men. It is our differences which make us a stronger unit not our similarities. Having constant yes chorus often brings about poor behaviours in the background such as withdrawing, grumbling, plotting or fighting. However having a good discussion on differing opinions and melding the two often brings about a better solutions with buy-in from all participants.

Tips for developing effective work relationships

  1. Recognize all relationships are important - Once you come to the realization that all relationships are important, you will begin to invest time and energy with people to work through issues. You will also have a genuine sense of interest in your colleagues not just the work at hand. After all the critical part of people, process, and technology is always the people.
  2. Learn to listen and leave judgement at the door - Listening without judging, helps put you in a position to understand where the individual is coming from and allows the individual to share.
  3. Get out and about with the team in a comfortable setting - Cubicle land is not the most comfortable of all settings and inductive to developing productive work relationships. Neither is the meeting room or the virtual conference call. If the opportunity presents itself, go to lunch with the team or colleague. Get out of the office for a cup of coffee, have the discussions on neutral grounds.
  4. Develop a culture where colleagues feel empowered to express their opinion - A culture based upon fear will get you to where you need to go for the short time, but it is not a good culture to develop a company upon. Focus on developing a culture of empowerment and trust. It is just a good thing to have a team of empowered individuals working on a common outcome.

The Take Away

It is key as a manager, leader, or teammate to have effective work relationships not demeaning the differences but welcoming them. The first step to developing an organizational culture is to walk the walk by showing respect and listening to colleagues.

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