Starting Positive Work Relationships In An Agile Team
Whenever I talk to people about social interactions, I like to talk about “different levels” of relationships.
At first this may sound as a bit of a stretch, but consider this:
We have brief encounters with people we don’t know every day of our lives. Suddenly, due to some unexpected situation, a person that was first a stranger becomes a friend. With time, this friendship can become deep and meaningful, or even turn into a romantic relationship.
Now, of course, that doesn’t happen every day and with every person we meet. But when you think about it, almost every meaningful relationship in our lives (except for the ones with our parents and siblings) began with us crossing paths with a stranger.
Where a relationship will go and when or how it will end, that’s something that depends entirely on both parties involved in the relationship, what type of relationship it is and how invested or not both parties are in it. But none the less, it’s a relationship.
So what happens when we find ourselves having to develop some sort of relationship with a stranger because of specific circumstances that pushed us towards them? One example is the place where we work. In the context of an Agile team, it’s not uncommon to work with specialists we don’t know very well or at all. So how do we establish positive relationships? For starters, I always try to leave my pre-conceived ideas outside my work place. This leaves me open and willing to listen and learn from and about others, but it also allows me to come to work without any particular expectations or labels. In other words, I come to work as an open book, receptive, respectful and open to discover the universe that is my working environment and the multicultural personalities that compose it.
Meeting new people
Whenever I am introduced to someone new, the first thing I like to do is to always associate their name with a positive characteristic of either their personality (if I was able to chat with them for a little bit) or their eyes (if the encounter was too short).
Why is it important to find a positive aspect or characteristic from them to be associated with their name? First, it is important to remember that this will be people that we will work with regardless of how the relationship in the work environment evolves, so we want to make sure the relationship starts on a positive note.
Moreover, we often hear that first impressions matter, and that’s actually quite accurate. Our brain generally registers first what we see and then associates what we are seeing with a familiar term that will accurately represent it in our memory.
Following this principle, I try to the best of my capacity to train my mind to make sure that the first thing I remember about someone I have just met is something positive. This way, I remain receptive to this person and without specific expectations or worries about how the relationship may evolve.
Remembering names can sometimes be quite difficult, especially when you work in an environment with a lot of different cultures and languages. When it comes to people’s names, I like to ask them to repeat their name at least one time when we first meet just so I can reinforce my association. Sometimes I also ask them to correct me if I miss pronounce their name, not only because pronouncing someone’s name properly is a sign of professionalism and respect, but also because this will immediately give them a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Once we are able to remember a person’s name and associate them with a positive characteristic, we are on the path to developing a positive professional relationship. Even if we only interact occasionally with this person, we will at least have a positive base from which a successful work relationship can be developed.
Whenever I work with someone, I also try to the best of my ability to listen carefully when they are talking with me. Whenever I don’t understand something, I make sure I ask and I always explain why and what I didn’t understand, not only because it will help me clarify it and it will reinforce my understanding of it. But also, because it will also show to my coworker that I am open and receptive to learning from them and that I respect their knowledge and their position within our working environment.
Working with someone new is never easy and we can never be fully and perfectly prepared for it. There will always be a learning curve from them towards us and from us towards them, and there will always be many factors like personality, language, manners and overall behavior that will affect the way a relationship with a coworker evolves.
However, when we cultivate within ourselves the idea of remaining open, receptive, respectful, positive and attentive, chances are that we will start a new work relationship with a positive base that may actually set the foundation for a very productive and successful work relationship.