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Surveys of executives from around the world show that relationship skills are in great demand, and so is the need to improve those skills and put them to use in a changing corporate culture. While they were once considered “soft” skills that some executives simply possessed naturally, relationship skills are something that can, indeed, be learned.

Sure, some people will have an intrinsic ability to build, develop, and maintain relationships. However, a successful executive — no matter how smart — can no longer hope knowledge and experience will offset lukewarm relationship and people skills.

The first step to building more effective relationships starts with being practical and assessing your own abilities. Start paying attention to how you interact with coworkers. Gauge your reactions to them, and take note of how they physically and verbally respond to you.

You can’t do that if you’re sequestered in your office, so be present. Shake hands. Walk around. If you’ve got people dispersed at other sites, make a visit; don’t just rely on the phone and email to build that relationship. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

This first assessment will help you grasp your standing with your employees or coworkers. Once you’ve become more aware, start taking consistent steps to eliminate weak points and strengthen skills you already have.

Relationships don’t take place in a vacuum, nor do they start from scratch. Learn to relate to all kinds and levels of people within the organization. That helps a good, effective manager expand their view of the people who work for the company. Successful executives involve others, and it’s impossible to involve other people if there isn’t a connection to start with.

Relationships come from listening and sharing information. That happens in good times and in bad. Only by listening and getting direct information from team members can an executive involve those affected in any decisions or changes.

By listening, sharing, and expanding their corporate view, executives can be proactive in finding solutions. Good relationships are based on handling problems in a positive way. Even tough decisions can be made more palatable if delivered in a positive manner that doesn’t alienate others. The best managers learn to find common ground, and they know how to be diplomats.

Finally, the most practical relationship skill-building tool involves being realistic. Recognize that almost every decision or move comes with conflicting sets of circumstances. Good relationship skills can keep conflict and disagreement to a minimum. And, simply because parties may conflict, that doesn’t mean an effective leader can’t work through the challenge and build a spirit of cooperation — thanks to their great relationship skills.

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