How to Build a Solid Foundation for Better Work Relationships

Search any of the top business, leadership, or HR blogs and you’ll find that one of the key drivers to employee engagement is clearly communicated expectations. You know this old song and dance; if employees know what’s expected of them and understand (and value) how they fit into the big picture, then they’re likely to be highly engaged. And engagement equals productivity, satisfaction, and longevity.

Communicating your organization’s goals and providing clear direction is essential to engagement. But what about communicating the everyday stuff with your employees? What about understanding how your employee actually works? How they problem solve, what frustrates them, what motivates them, and how they prefer to communicate?

I once had a manager who I felt utterly and completely out of sync with. He’d send me a task over email, I’d write back with my results, he wouldn’t reply. I’d email suggestions for departmental improvements, I’d receive no response. He’d tell me, “You don’t collaborate well,” and I’d scratch my head in confusion. Finally, one day I had a list of follow-ups to do in person. He reviewed my list and explained for each item, “for these types of requests, I like in person discussions better. And for that type of suggestion, I recommend you just go ahead – I’m not into those types of details.”  

Well, had I known four months ago that he preferred face to face over email, I would have held more meetings. And, if I had known he wasn’t into certain details, I WOULDN’T HAVE SENT THEM. {Face Palm}

Establishing boundaries, guidelines, and exchanging mutual expectations in any relationship is critical – work relationships aren’t exempt! Learning communication preferences from the desired medium to the preferred level of detail, understanding workplace frustrations and motivators, to learning what energizes (and deflates) your employee…. All of this needs to be standard information gathered from the onset. Think of it as building the relationship foundation.

To set up a solid relationship foundation, facilitate an open conversation with new employees and set the stage for understanding each others work styles. Here’s a format you can follow to set the groundwork for a positive working relationship:

  • How do you prefer to communicate? [Oral, Written, Instant Message, Text, etc.]
  • How do you like to receive feedback? [When, Where, Using which Communication Tool]
  • Do you like public recognition? How does it make you feel?
  • What motivates you? What energizes you?
  • What’s important to you in a work environment?
  • What are your personal values?
  • What frustrates you?
  • What makes you feel unmotivated?
  • What do you expect from your leader?
  • What can I expect from you?

Start out using these questions as a loose guideline and adjust them according to your company culture, environment, and so forth. The goal is to understand how your employee works so that you can define how you work together.

(About the Author: Writer, connector, collaborator – Gabrielle Garon is an enthusiastic HR pro on a simple mission to be a person of value, not of success. Gabrielle got into HR because she really liked helping others and soon found an overwhelming curiosity for behaviour, motivation, and how it all intersects with business. Gabrielle loves to talk! Her favourite topics are performance management, training & development, culture, and employer branding. Connect with Gabrielle here: @GabrielleGaron or gabriellegaron.com)

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photo credit: fiddleoak via photopin cc

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