Bad at Relationships? Five Moves to Ensure Success
We nonprofit types think a lot about how we communicate with supporters — and with good reason. Unfortunately, most of us spend less time considering how we communicate with colleagues. This is too bad, because research has shown that the ability to forge strong work relationships is vital for career advancement and organizational success.
Whether you are a CEO trying to form a partnership with a board chair, a development director trying to work more closely with the marketing director or a major gifts officer trying to build a relationship with a donor, the relationship is everything. But for some of us, it’s hard.
So, what if you’re one of those people who suck at relationships? Are you doomed to a life of one vertical move after another on the career ladder?
Hope for you comes from an unlikely place: the movie industry. Ever notice how many male and female leads fall in love with each other while making a film? They’re acting like they’re in love based on the script, and then suddenly, they’re in love in real life. Psychologists know that the behaviors being acted out unconsciously affect their IRL emotions. And that’s where you come in, “I’m bad at relationships” person.
In the relationship game, you can fake it until you make it. Here are five things that will make your dealings with colleagues more successful.
1. Be Positive
Research has shown that positive comments made to another greatly impact their assessment of those giving them praise. Praise is so impactful that it has the same effect even when a person knows the flattery is false. That’s right; research confirms that insincere flattery actually works. I’m not suggesting you go overboard on false flattery; I’m just emphasizing that people are susceptible to positive regard from others. Find something to talk them up; a little goes a long way.
2. Speak Well of Your Colleagues
Again, keep comments positive while talking to others about colleagues. It tells people, “I’m someone you can count on to support the group.” Issues you have with colleagues should be resolved with that person alone. Note regarding the positive comments mentioned in No. 1: Praising someone works well unless they hear you speaking disparagingly about them to others; then the praise goes up in smoke. This is a worst-case scenario.
3. Show Respect for Colleagues
Respect is about assuming good intentions. You may not agree with colleagues (or even like them), but give them the benefit of the doubt. They are probably doing their best, just like you are doing yours. This will help you to be empathetic with them. Recent research on leadership has concluded that empathy is the most important leadership skill. So, be tolerant of different perspectives, and you may hear, “Congrats on the promotion, Vice President!”
4. Be Consistent in Communications
Regular communication goes beyond starting every conversation with, “I’m calling you today because (insert work-related thing).” Get to know your colleagues beyond the issues you deal with in the work environment. For example, asking about family is a timeworn but effective lead in. And talk back, sharing of yourself; new research has shown that you’ll seem more likable if you speak for more than half of the time. All of this will help when you’re involved in work-related issues with colleagues and when conflicts need to be resolved. People who know each other personally are more likely to find solutions that benefit both parties.
5. Develop Trust
Trust is the outcome of No. 1 through No. 4. It is the accumulation of many behaviors over time. Trust is your greatest resource, so take care not to squander it. For example, follow through on work stuff, but when you can’t, show colleagues you care about their needs by giving them plenty of notice. Then apologize and figure out another solution to get it done. You don’t need to be perfect, and owning your shortcomings will show people you are responsible and reliable.
Ready to start faking it? Do these five things, and you’ll soon be hitting your relationships out of the park like Brad Pitt and Angelina, who faked it in the move, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," until they made it as Brangelina. On second thought, that may be a bit too high of a bar, but it will work; it will work (keep repeating that to yourself).
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.