Whether fighting over territory (imagined or otherwise) or jostling for position with the boss, peer-to-peer relationships can be fraught with tension. This has become an increasingly common topic across our clients at HALO Psychology. We’ve found that the main cause tends to be a feeling of vulnerability bought on by intense periods of organisational change.
Here are three things that we’ve found have worked with the middle and senior managers we’ve worked with:
Have a frank, respectful discussion with the peer concerned: One of the biggest hurdles we’ve encountered when working with individual managers or teams is the fear of having a conversation with the other person. A really important skill for managers is to be able to have difficult conversations and certainly not avoid them.
Key is not just launching in with a barrage of stuff that’s built up through resentment over time. Book some time in with the peer concerned, ideally over a coffee, and ahead of the meeting think about the outcome you want to achieve from having the conversation. With the end in mind, then work back to jot down the three main points you want to make and the style you need to deliver these points in.
Remember the holy trinity of Right Time + Right Place + Right Mindset in order to ensure a conversation goes well. This isn’t just about the right time, place or mindset for you but also for your peer.
Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes: We’ve found that some managers don’t take the time to think about what their peer might be going through. This lack of empathy often comes from feeling busy, stressed and overwhelmed.
An exercise carried out with a recent coaching client was to keep asking “Why do you think they did that?” in response to the client’s perception of their peer’s inappropriate behaviour. Drilling down until we could go no further, allowed the client to have a light-bulb moment about what might be going on for their peer at home. This then put the client in the necessary empathetic and supportive mind-set to go into their conversation with the peer concerned, subsequently ensuring things wouldn’t get confrontational.
Get to know your peers outside of the office: Just as you are more than your job title and the work you do, so are your peers. One way to break down barriers and build stronger, more positive relationships is to get to know the person. Activities that have worked for clients have included going for a drink after work; a few peers going for dinner or bowling; or doing some kind of voluntary activity as a group of peers (such as painting a children’s playground). It can also be as innocuous as travelling home together on public transport.
Remember, this is a two-way street though. Just as you’re hoping to find out a bit more about your peer, then you need to share a bit about yourself.
How have you overcome relationship issues with your management peers? Why not share your tips and advice in the comments section below?
Hayley Lewis is a business psychologist and founder of HALO Psychology, a consultancy helping public sector managers tackle difficult problems around performance and people. HALO offers a variety of services including coaching, facilitation and training. Contact us to see how we can help you thrive as a manager.