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July 11, 2012 / mike54martin

Keys to Building Better Workplace Relationships

For the last ten years I have been working with a number of workplace experts (former managers and union leaders, current coaches and mentors) to try and build better workplace relationships. We have chosen to focus on unionized workplaces and the relationship between employers and their union representatives to see if we can improve their relationships and as a result lead to improved overall communication and increased overall trust and respect in the workplace.

The good news is that we have had some success. The bad news is that there is so much more work to do in this area. As a “posimist”, I try to be both optimistic and positive and I would much rather focus on our collective successes and what contributed to this success. So here are a couple of key elements that I have observed in these ten years of work.

No Bad Interventions

By the time that we get called into the workplace things are usually in pretty bad shape. But that’s okay because like the old story about “Ottawa”… we’re here to help. It would have been better to call us earlier but we start from the point of contact. Once we get involved, or even once management decides to act to get more help, things start to improve. There are no bad interventions in building workplace relationships and it’s never too late to start.

It Starts (and Ends) At the Top

A few years ago I was at a briefing session for the senior manager of an organization just before a special meeting with the union to start the discussions about building a better relationship. Some of the managers were grumbling that this was a waste of time and that the union didn’t really represent anybody and they were too difficult to deal with and so on. Finally the CEO stood up and asked would it better or worse for our bottom line to have a good working relationship with the union? Case closed. Senior managers have to lead the process, every process to build better relationships at work.

Start Small to Make Big Changes

Sometimes the problems seem so big and old and the people are so entrenched that it doesn’t seem like anything is possible. That’s the time to remember the answer to another question. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If your department or workplace is not ready for major changes then start small with the ones they might be open to. If one section looks like it might want to change then why not let them go first. Give them some extra attention and resources and see where it goes. Maybe they will be successful and others will see their success and want that for themselves. Or try a small initiative system-wide and see how it goes. Start small and you just might find that maybe a year or two down the road that elephant has shrunk quite a bit.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. His latest book is a mystery set in Grand Bank, Newfoundland called The Walker on the Cape

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