Having a fulfilling career and reaching our potential is much more likely when we’re able to work with colleagues who want to pull together and collaborate with us, and who feel free to challenge us and spark new ideas.
Sometimes though, in our keenness to show value and feel self-worth, we can inadvertently do and say things which damage relationships within our own firm. Left unchecked, we could find ourselves increasingly marginalised by our colleagues and isolated from our teams.
Here are four ways to better nurture our relationships with colleagues:
1. Social and cultural engagement
Instead of focusing on ‘What’s their role and seniority?’ and ‘How might they be useful in helping me achieve what I want?’, we should broaden out some of our colleague interactions to include trying to understand Who they each are as individuals and Why they’re motivated to follow the path they’re on.
Engaging with colleagues in a way which allows them to reflect on their social and cultural back-story is a great way to do this.
Committing to understand, for instance, where your colleague grew up (and what journey they’ve been on to get to now), who’s been their biggest fan (and what influence they’ve had on their life), and, when was the last time they were really animated about something (and what makes them come alive), might reveal:
- An activist who’s set on helping David beat Goliath
- An outsider who wants to be anything but ordinary
- A performer at heart who craves being in front of an audience, or
- An all-action ninja who loves saving the day
And just as valuable, a ‘How are things at home?’ might uncover the struggles of a colleague who desperately needs help.
2. Set out to be an inspiration, not a hero
Being called a ‘hero’ is something most of us would welcome, but setting this as a goal in itself can often distract from whatever underlying issue, cause or ambition was motivating us to act in the first place.
Indeed, interacting with others with the implicit aim of pursuing heroic status will likely alienate those we need the most.
We should instead set out to inspire our colleagues to work with us by ensuring that our interactions with them are grounded in openness and humility.
In doing so, we will show a clearly visible commitment to collaboration and diversity of opinion, helping our colleagues to trust and respect us and, in turn, feel safe to bring to the table the suggestions and ideas we need.
Inspiration through openness can also come from how we’re seen to tackle difficult decisions which affect others.
For instance, if you’re in a position with leadership responsibilities, don’t be afraid to make it clear that whilst collaboration is the order of the day, the team’s decision-making process isn’t going to feel like a democracy every time – not all decisions will please everyone, but transparency and challenge will always be supported.
3. Nurture creative input
For most of us, summoning our creative-selves and sharing new ideas is a much more emotional experience than, for instance, giving an opinion on a process or point of technical detail – it is something that feels very personal to us.
As such, creative criticism cuts deep.
So when collaborating with colleagues, be sure to make a point of embracing any creative input that comes your way, and help to nurture those ideas as best you can.
Even better, resist the temptation to take control in order to ‘get it done’. Instead, give your colleague the autonomy they need to fully immerse themselves in their creativity, without feeling shackled or undermined.
4. Be restrained in taking the credit
The need to evidence impact and highlight new revenue wins means there’s sometimes a real temptation to seek praise from others and over-emphasise the role you played.
But you’re likely to accomplish a lot more in the long-run if you focus on helping each of your teams achieve the client’s desired outcome, rather than worrying about how you’ll take credit for it.
Think of your role as helping to gently steer your client teams in one direction or another, relying on the input of all colleagues to allow the team to make dozens of subtle course corrections along the way.
Often, the most recognised client teams are the ones where everyone feels like they’re making a difference, and where team members celebrate any successes as one.