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How to develop productive working relationships

The ability to develop productive relationships and recognise the potential for conflict is an essential skill. When it comes to conflict, most of us have a default approach – we either tend to avoid it or seek it out. Neither style is better or worse and whilst we all have a preferred style, it’s impossible to avoid or seek out conflict all the time. More likely, we adjust our style to the context, the people involved and the situation in our work place.

Disagreements at work are healthy. And they are inevitable as constant change requires a constant debate. In a perfect world, we would deal with conflict in a logical way like adults and just get on with it. However, we are not only logical, but we do bring our emotions to work as well.

Working better together

The truth is that you won’t get along with everyone you work with, but there is potential value and opportunity to learn in every interaction. The first step in developing productive relationships is to accept and reflect on the cause and your role in the tension and how you are responding to it. Very few people get up in the morning with the goal of making their colleagues’ lives miserable, so it’s worth taking the time to think about the other person’s point of view, especially if this person is essential to your success. Collaborative relationships are more productive than competitive ones, so learn to become a problem solver rather than a competitor.

Managers play an essential part in turning their team differences into a competitive advantage, instead of seeing it as a difficulty. A survey of 80,000 managers conducted by Gallup has found that whilst each manager has their own management style, the one quality that makes them stand out is the ability to discover what is unique about each person and capitalising on it. Successful leaders know and value the differences and unique abilities of their teams and they know how to integrate them into the bigger picture.

A problem focused approach

Dealing with conflict at work starts with self-awareness, so ask yourself if you might be part of the problem. In a dysfunctional team, it’s highly likely that each team member is contributing to the conflict in some way and each of them could be taking personal accountability to make their teams more productive.

Conflict resolution is not an easy task and it requires time and practice, as well as reflection. Don’t rush to act, instead take a step back and consider the options before saying something that you might regret. Listen to everything and everyone, but don’t feel that you need to respond to everything you are hearing. Keeping an open mind and avoiding name calling will get you further – focus on the problem, not the people. In case you are really struggling with your position in the middle of the conflict, bringing in a mediator to help can be an alternative way to resolve the situation.

At Acumen, we offer a range of courses, workshops and coaching programmes. Our programme “Producing results with others” develops interpersonal skills to improve working relationships. This will reduce the incident of destructive conflict and assist in influencing others. The programme allows participants to identify different communication styles and improves their versatility in working constructively with others. For more information, contact

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