Sunday, February 20, 2005

That R-Word

It’s too bad that Relationship is such a scary word when all it really means in the business context is working well together. No one’s asking for a commitment, at least not here. And it’s not all that mysterious either as to how and why it works and how to use it to your advantage without becoming Machiavellian about it.

The simple answer is we are comfortable with what we know, less comfortable with what we don’t know. We are more likely to work readily with what makes us comfortable because it’s less painful… less uncomfortable.

You probably have examples of your own to share here… someone you know asks you a favor and you’re more than happy to comply if it’s in your power. Imagine being asked the same thing from someone you don’t know as well or don’t care too much about; suddenly it’s an annoyance instead and there are at least ten reasons the task can’t be done.

If you’re a manager and you’re in a group ranking process with other managers, your own people rate high with you and others you don’t know so well are more suspect. The other managers think just the opposite. The only people on whom you really agree are those who have spent time with each of you.

Knowing this, you can fix the kinds of problems that result from being an unknown factor. Get your people known by the managers in other groups. Spend time yourself with other people in your organization who can influence your work and your career. Get to know other people better and help them to know you.

That’s all that building relationship thing is about. Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. Instead, it can pave the way to future success.

One person put it to me this way - "After all, if you can't 'use' your friends, who can you 'use'?"

Sounds manipulative, doesn't it? How do you keep it from becoming something that sounds that bad? That's not tough either. The key is to focus on the other person, not on what they can do for you. This way, whatever happens as a result of the relationship will come as an appropriate side benefit instead turning you both into people who are simply using each other.

How have relationships helped you and how have you built them? Curious minds at want to know!

What would it be worth to you to have better working relationships?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Food For Thought

Have you noticed that the most important events of our lives are generally associated with food in some way? No Superbowl party would be complete without pizza, chili, hotdogs and snacks. The best holidays all involve food. So do weddings and births and birthdays. Even at funerals, a time when it would seem few would care to eat, food has become a cultural icon of sorts.

There’s a reason for this though I’m not entirely sure I understand it myself. Initial internet searches have not turned up what I’ve been looking for – perhaps you can find it and comment.

What I do know is that rituals are all about easing transitions in relationship and that food plays an important role in that process. Food makes social interaction easier, even under the most difficult circumstances. For that matter, food helps emotional and physical healing too – that’s why they call it comfort food – but that part may be less useful in the business world, unless of course you’re one to burn bridges and then wish you hadn’t.

This isn’t just esoteric stuff. Understanding that there exists a relationship between food and social interaction has actually been helpful for me – little things like knowing that pizza parties were always been popular with my teams and keeping candy and treats at my desk as a way of encouraging folks to stop by and chat, even for just a moment to let me know what’s going on with them.

Food has also played a key role in bigger ways too. One of my support teams was having a tough time with one of the developer groups so I suggested they work on building a better working relationship with the other team, something they initially thought wasn't possible given their previous unsuccessful attempts. They tried again by hosting a potluck lunch for the developers and the relationship between the two groups immediately improved. It was the getting together that did it. It was the food that made it possible.

One of my favorite things to do has always been to get together with peers in other groups over lunch just to get to know them better, talk about some aspect of business, or simply forge a stronger relationship. Personally, I probably wouldn’t bother to eat anyway, so it’s a good excuse to feed myself and eating certainly gives us something else to do if we happen to run out of things to talk about. Another plus – food seems to be sufficient enticement for getting together, even when the other person might not otherwise care to meet. “Sure, gotta eat anyway,” is often the response and if they balk at that, I’ll generally offer to buy. The only thing better than food seems to be free food.

How does food figure in your success? Send your thoughts to and we'll call it an idea potluck.

What could you do with a better working relationship with others and what would you be willing to do to have it?