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Queensland Stay On Your Feet® - Toolkit Phase 2 Good Working Relationships

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Good Working Relationships

When a group of people join together to achieve a common goal, it is important to understand how people work together and how to develop good working relationships among all your group members. A good working relationship can't be demanded or ordered. It is not a given. You will have to work at it and spend energy and time maintaining it. For example, the way you are able to deal with change and conflict is one of the most important elements of building good working relationships, especially as your project begins to gain momentum.

Among other things, a good working relationship relies on:

Communication skills

Effective listening skills

Often, we become so distracted by our own thoughts and what others are doing around us that we do not listen effectively. Here are some tips for effective listening:

  • stop talking, look at the person, listen to the other person and concentrate on what is being said [143, 144]
  • show that you are interested in what they are saying [143, 144]
  • check for understanding by paraphrasing what they have said to you and ask questions for clarification [143, 144]
  • don't control conversation [143, 144]
  • let others finish before responding [143, 144]
  • be aware of non-verbal cues eg. eye rolling, arms folded [143, 144]
  • respond to the message, not the person or their delivery or emotion [143, 144]
  • make sure you comprehend before you judge - ask questions [143, 144].

Barriers to good communication

There are a number of identified barriers to good communication, including:

  • the use of jargon and words which can have different meanings [143, 144]
  • the misreading of the body language of others, as well as their tone and other non-verbal forms of communication [143, 144]
  • noise and other distractions while people are trying to communicate [143, 144]
  • selective hearing, when the person who is listening does not hear everything [143, 144]
  • ignoring non-verbal cues [143, 144]
  • power struggles [143, 144]
  • information coming from a mistrusted source [143, 144]
  • a person's state of mind, for example: fixed mindset [143, 144]
  • people's perception [143, 144]
  • misunderstanding of cultural differences [143, 144]
  • the use of physical position at a meeting table.

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Negotiation aims to achieve an agreement between parties about a course of action in order to achieve a 'win-win' situation for all involved [164].

The process involves similar steps to problem solving with each party being prepared to move and make trade offs in order to come closer to a mutual decision.

According to conflict resolution experts, there are five basic principles for good negotiation, namely:

  • be hard on the problem and soft on the person
  • focus on needs, not positions
  • emphasise common ground
  • be inventive about options
  • make clear agreements [179].

Where possible, prepare for any negotiation session in advance. Consider your needs and the other person's needs. Be clear about what areas are non-negotiable. Try to be creative, think outside the box and come up with possible win-win scenarios. Be clear about the overriding need for all present to be able to walk away from the negotiation with something achieved. Try and avoid unfair tactics and name any such behaviour in the group as it happens, calling for a pause or a chance to step back and reflect.

As the negotiation continues, you may need to:

  • reframe - ask a question to reframe the issue, to check collective understanding or to change an attack on a person into an attack on the issue [179]
  • respond, not react - manage your emotions by letting some accusations, attacks, threats or ultimatums pass right by you. Always make it possible for the other party to back down without feeling humiliated. A good way to do this is to identify changed circumstances which could reasonably justify a changed position [179]
  • re-focus on the issue - try at all times to maintain the relationship and resolve the issue at hand. Summarise how much progress has been made, and review the common ground and agreement so far. Divide the remaining issue into parts and start with the less difficult bits. Invite trading ("if you will, then I will…") [179]
  • identify any unfair tactics - name such bad behaviour as a tactic, think about why it is being used and call for a time out and reflection [179].

Once an agreement has been negotiated, answer these questions:

  • is it built on a win-win approach?
  • does it meet as many needs as possible of all the parties involved?
  • is it feasible?
  • is it fair?
  • does it solve the problem?
  • can we settle on one option or do we need to trial several? [179].

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Conflict resolution

Conflict is when there is disagreement, opposition or differences, all of which can bring about disharmony. Conflict does not have to be bad. How it is handled determines whether there will be a positive or negative outcome. When any group of people get together, especially around trying to change the way things are, there is always a possibility of conflict distracting from the goals and work of the group.

There is often conflict of some sort when people try to work together towards change. The key issue is how to use any conflict in a creative way that helps to strengthen the group, rather than weaken it. There is nothing wrong with conflict, just the way it's handled. If conflict can be resolved within a group or around a particular issue, it can often build the capacity of the group, improve interpersonal relationships and harden resolve.

"Life is not about winning and losing - it's about learning. When you fall down, you pick yourself up and note where the pothole was so you can walk around it the next time. No winners and losers, just winners and learners" [179].

The negative results of unresolved ongoing conflict can include:

  • disruption among the whole team
  • time delays [22]
  • power struggles and bullying type behaviour
  • organisations or parts of the community that are important to the project/program declining participation [22]
  • a dysfunctional work environment with people feeling devalued.

There are a number of ways to handle conflict [22,143]. Usually, the most effective way is for the group concerned to find ways to solve the problem [22,143]. This may involve some compromise and change. It may be worth exploring whether there are any mediation services available [22].

The positive side of conflict is that constructive adaptation and change can occur [143]. There are a number of skills that have been identified as crucial to resolving any conflict. These skills include:

  • the win/win approach - identify attitude shifts to respect all parties needs
  • creative response - transform problems into creative opportunities
  • empathy - develop communication tools to build rapport and use listening to clarify understanding
  • appropriate assertiveness - apply strategies to attack the problem, not the person
  • cooperative power - eliminate 'power over' and build 'power with' others
  • managing emotions - express fear, anger, hurt and frustration wisely
  • willingness to resolve - name personal issues that cloud the picture
  • mapping the conflict - define the issues needed to chart common needs and concerns
  • develop options - design creative solutions together
  • negotiation - plan and apply effective strategies to reach agreement
  • mediation - help conflicting parties to move towards solutions
  • broadening perspectives - evaluate the problem in its broader context [179].

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Problem solving

Problem solving is the process of seeking solutions or alternatives to conflict and recommending and implementing the best solution [164]. To solve problems, take the following steps:

  • identify and define the problem [143, 164]
  • analyse the problem by looking at it from all angles [143, 164]
  • develop alternative solutions to the problem, using brain storming for a flow of ideas without judging the ideas [143, 164]
  • evaluate alternatives by listing the pros and cons of each [143, 164]
  • decide upon the solution or top three solutions by selecting the one that has the most favourable consequences for the future [143, 164]
  • test a few options so you can define the steps to put the solution/s into place [143, 164]
  • carry out the solution (or test one solution at a time) [143, 164]
  • follow up and evaluate the solution [143, 164].

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Team building

Building a team relies on good communications, an agreed goal and ways of behaving (a code of practice), trust and mutual support. Twelve important tips for building successful teams are:

  • clear expectations - are the goals clear? Does everyone understand why the team was created in the first place? [180]
  • context - does everyone in the team understand why they are participating in the team? Does everyone on the team understand how their work fits into larger goals and outcomes? [180]
  • commitment - do all team members want to be on the team? Do team members perceive their service as valuable? [180]
  • competence - does the team feel that it has the appropriate people participating? Do they feel that they have the knowledge, skills and capability to address the relevant issues? [180]
  • charter - has the team taken its assigned area of responsibility and designed its own mission, vision and strategies to accomplish the mission? [180]
  • control - does the team have enough freedom and empowerment to feel the ownership necessary to accomplish its charter? Do team members understand their boundaries? Is the team's reporting relationship understood by all members? [180]
  • collaboration - does the team understand team and group processes? Are team members working together effectively interpersonally? [180]
  • communication - is there an established method for the team to give feedback and receive honest performance feedback? Do team members communicate clearly and honestly with each other? [180]
  • creative innovation - is the organisation really interested in change? Does it value creative thinking, unique solutions and new ideas? [180]
  • consequences - do team members feel accountable and responsible for team achievements? Is reasonable risk respected and encouraged in the organisation? Do team members fear reprisals? [180]
  • coordination - if there are a number of teams at work, is there co-ordination through central leadership? [180]
  • cultural change - does the organisation recognise that the more it can change the climate to support teams, the more it will receive in payback from the work of the teams? [180]

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Respect and trust

A 2001 study by the Business Council of Australia found that 'quality working relationships represent the central pivot on which excellent workplaces are founded' [170]. Good working relationships are characterised by mutual respect, trust and recognition [170]. People work together as friends and/or colleagues, helping and supporting each other to get the job done [170].

Trust is a key ingredient and it is built by communicating effectively and considering another person's self esteem, skills and differences by offering praise and support [171].

Keep at it!

All of these factors will help build good working relationships - but you will need to spend the time necessary to maintain and enhance those relationships.

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Last updated: 14 July 2022