by Emily Kapit, M.S., MRW, ACRW, CPRW
Triple Certified Master Resume Writer & Lead Career Strategist
ReFresh Your Step, LLC–Career Advisory & Strategy
Early in my career, I had a few interesting (read: terrible) bosses and team members, none of whom were collaborative, communicative, or dependable. Some could do their jobs well but not all; yet, I wondered how they were able to move up in their careers, rather than called out for poor behavior or, better yet, provided training on how to actually be an effective team player. I noticed since then, though, that their career trajectories eventually petered out (not soon enough when they were making my days difficult but, alas, that is a story for another time!).
Who instead seemed to move up to the more executive roles? While not always the case, I perceived then (and continue to see this as even more of a trend now) that team members who were strong leaders, able to read people and respond in kind, as well as do their jobs well, were eventually recognized and promoted to more executive-level roles, ultimately surpassing their difficult colleagues.
So what accounts for the difference?
Leadership. Communication. Collaboration.
Whether they consciously knew it or not, these individuals are able to consistently identify the main players in their own unique workplace circles, figure out how to connect with each person, and work within that person’s specific boundaries (though likely not sacrificing their own in the process). To me, this is emotional intelligence at its core and a beautiful thing to behold!
Does the idea of emotional intelligence help you if you find yourself in a frustrating workplace situation, now or in the future?
I hear your big, fat NOPE…and am here to offer some key strategies that will train you to be more in-line with the second group of people and, even better, on the path to even greater career success. Working through challenging workplace relationships is absolutely doable with a plan that involves stepping back, assessing how you and others work, and using that info to improve your workplace relationships.
A key component to keep in mind before we even delve in this topic is simple: your own success at work has far more to do with how well you connect to major players in your work sphere than just about anything else. What does that mean?
Generally speaking, we are referring to developing your soft skills, such as effective communication tactics, cross-functional collaboration, leadership, and more. The Wall Street Journal recently had a wonderful article on just this topic and though the journalist there was applying it more to mid-career professionals, cultivating your soft skills is key at any stage of your career – and starting early, if you still can!. We suggest taking it one step further, though, and also learning the importance of tailoring your interactions with people to each person/type or interaction in order to optimize the overall relationship.
You + Strategy = All the Answers
Before talking about relationships with others, it is also crucial for you to establish YOUR best workstyle; as such, I suggest you start with answering the questions below (noting that there a myriad of questions to consider but this is a starting point):
- Do you prefer to collaborate with people on projects or work individually?
- Are you naturally a leader or are you okay with sharing the spotlight?
- Is your preference to receive continuous direction from your boss on what to do or have a more hands-off manager? How do you prefer to manage those reporting directly to you or other stakeholders for your role?
- Do you feel you function better in a bureaucratic organization or one with a more open culture?
- Do you lean more towards an open, connected communication style or aim for a “less is more” one?
From here, we can establish that managing relationships for optimal success, regardless of the type of relationship, boils down to two main points:
- A) Understanding fundamentals of who the person is with whom you are interacting and how he/she works, coupled with,
- B) Communicating with that person in a way that effective for both parties.
I suggest keeping that foundation in mind for the different groups outlined below (and perhaps for all the relationships in your life!).
1) Your Boss
Some might argue that this is THE work relationship requiring the majority of your time focus. I disagree and here’s why: while it is absolutely crucial that you keep the big wig above you happy, learning how to manage your boss is pretty easy. You two both generally care most about the same thing: that the job gets done and done well. It is incumbent upon you, then, to learn how to manage your manager – the expectations as well as the person.
Return to the points above and consider the following: how does your boss work and what aligns with you and your work-type? Are you both planners or just one of you? What rattles her versus what keeps her happy? What are your manager’s strengths and weaknesses and how can you work within those, especially filling in on the weaknesses side?
Actively considering questions like these will reveal the answers you need to keep things on an even keel and moving forward. Taking it to that next level and assessing how your manager prefers to communicate will maximize your relationship even more. Does he prefer more detailed updates on project progress, needs, and changes or are you working with a manager whose general view is, “Keep calm and work on…unless things blow up and I am actually needed?”
Yes, there may be some incongruences between how you and your boss work and communicate, but recognizing what those all are and finding the ways to work within your manager’s style will make your life infinitely easier. Remember: manage the manager!
2) Team Members
There are two types of team members to keep in mind here: those at your level as well as those who report to you. Again, the same general principles apply: assess how each one works and communicates so you can most effectively manage your relationships with each one individually.
There are a few nuances to keep in mind that are unique to each set of relationships as a whole and we want to consider those:
- With your peers, take it to that next level of ensuring proper boundaries. When multiple people from the same group are on the same level and involved in a given project, there is often miscommunication regarding who is responsible for what, leading to frustrations and delays. Discuss from the outset who is overseeing what aspects of a project or needs and maintain open communication as best you can to keep the momentum flowing.
- With those team members reporting to you, you also need to be mindful of boundaries and communication styles, honing in on each person’s key skills and areas for improvement. Consider pairing people up or grouping people together who can feed off of each other, teach each other, and fill in on the “weaknesses” side as needed (this also helps to build their leadership and emotional intelligence!).
Keep an eye open for the occasional toxic team member and have an honest conversation with that individual about what the issues are, how to work through it, and a timeline for doing so. If that individual is truly not meshing with you and the rest of the team, make a change.
3) Cross-Functional Team Members
This group includes those in your work circle who are not on your immediate team but whose departments or functions are connected to what you and your team do. As you may work together on different projects and needs, it is imperative that everyone work well together. Similar to above, take some time to identify the main people who with whom you and your team will be working on for a given project, identify how everyone seems to work and communicate, and establish a collaborative work plan around that. A little time up-front to go through this process will make quite the difference in maximizing workflow and productivity!
This is that moment in which you step out of the internal work bubble and look at your individual clients, if that applies to you at this point in your career. The tactic here is a bit more similar to those used with your manager: the client wants the job done / item sold / project created (and so on) and done well, on-time, and probably under budget. Learn what the goals are, identify how the client interacts and communicates, and work within those parameters as best you can.
Make sure to set your own boundaries, of course – no clients, no matter how much they are paying you or your company – should have 24/7 access to you or anyone on your side! If you find yourself in a situation where a client is unable to respect you, have an honest conversation if this is the optimal client for your organization and make a change, if needed.
The relationship you have with yourself if the ultimate one, whether it is at work, home, or anywhere else in life. While the above advice speaks to identifying and working within others’ boundaries, know your own, establish them as needed, and actively remove yourself from a toxic situation that is repeatedly occurring and showing no signs of improvement.
Your work relationships are central to your happiness and success in the work place as well as overall advancement in your career. Take some time to identify those players central to your role, pay attention to how to communicate and work with each one, both individually and in multi-person settings, and remember the most important rule when it comes to relationships is still the same as one you learned in kindergarten: treat others how you wish to be treated. Keep this points in mind and you will be…golden.
About the author:
Emily Kapit is TORI-nominated, Top-Ranked & 3X-Certified Master Resume Writer and was the keynote speaker at our NY Chapter event on March 7, 2018. Kapit is the owner, lead resume writer and head career strategist at ReFresh Your Step. She is a leading triple-certified resume writer, one of only 25 MRWs globally, and the world’s only MRW, ACRW, CPRW with a Masters of Science in Educational Psychology, a field that forms the backbone of her career advisory work. For more information about resume writing, visit refreshyourstep.com. You may also be interested in viewing a webinar that Emily previously spoke at: How and Where to Find Your Dream Job in 2018