Let’s start by saying something about the difference between accountability and responsibility. A dictionary might tell you that both are about being accountable and answerable to someone else, however, when we are accountable we are held responsible for some outcomes and results. When we take responsibility we have a feeling of ownership.
Let’s apply this to relationships - do you feel accountable to the people you work for and with, or do you feel responsible for the relationship you have with them? Whatever your answer is will make a difference to the quality and feel of your professional relationships.
So, whose relationship is it anyway?
Think about the relationship with your line manager. Do they own it, or do you own it? If it is not the kind of relationship you would like to have is it because of them or because of you? We often allow other people to have more influence and control of our relationships than they actually have or indeed might actually want. When we wait for the other person to make the first move to talk, lay down a ground rule of how the relationship works, invite us to do something, or to be friendly to us, we are giving power and influence in the relationship to them.
We may not be doing this consciously but that is the result, however, we are all responsible for our relationships all of the time. The key word is our - our relationship - we cannot get away from being part of a relationship - be that is with a line manager, a colleague, or with someone we manage. We are part of that relationship where we are responsible for our own relationships with every other team member.
Working with difficult people
I often say to groups I work with that I believe that there is no such thing as a difficult person. You can imagine the usual response when I say that: “You have never met X” or “You should try working with Y!” But bear in mind that the people you might find difficult, someone else might not, and the people others find more difficult to deal with, may be your work friends. Therefore they are not difficult; you and I just need to find a way that we can work with them.
We need to take responsibility for finding a way to make that relationship work, just as we do with the ones we might describe as easy. “Why should I and not them?”, people may ask. Simply, because it is our relationship. We own that relationship as much as the other person. We own it on our own behalf; we are responsible for (at the very least) trying to make it work. We owe it to ourselves, because relationships are how work gets done more easily and with more satisfaction. Good relationships are motivating and enjoyable and we spend too much time at work to experience bad relationships.
Short versus long-term thinking
“It is up to them” to “Be friendly”; “Make it easy for me to approach them” ; “Tell me what they want” etc is short term thinking because it implies that if you aren’t getting the answers you want then the relationship will not work. It is a no win situation. When we take responsibility for our relationships we understand that it takes skill, effort and energy to build and maintain relationships, and that over the long term there may be times when it feels like a win/lose situation but overall you are aiming for a win/win outcome. It is longer term thinking, which requires patience and often persistence on our part.
When we are able to answer “So whose relationship is it anyway?” not just with “ours” but with a resounding “mine - it is mine as well as his/hers”, then we have really taken responsibility for that relationship. This is the foundation on which we can then learn to relate with all the other people in our relationships by learning to communicate with and understand one another.
The first relationship we must therefore take ownership for is the one with ourselves and we will look at this in my next instalment “Being Response-able”.
Contact us now to discuss how we can help improve the communciation skills in your organisation, resulting in improved relationships.
Denise Campbell, Learning Professional
Passionate about working with leaders and managers who want to contribute significantly in their own area of work and inspire those they work with to deliver the goals they are collectively responsible for.
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