Relationships – are they a skill?

Guest Blogger Post
Sue Colbeck MCIPS
Head of Procurement and Supplies
Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust/ Liverpool Clinical Laboratories

I have been in employment now for over 20 years and have held numerous different positions in numerous different organisations ranging from Administration, Customer Service, Junior Management, to my current role as Head of Procurement.  In all of my positions I have had to work with and liaise with many different people whether it is senior management, my team, suppliers or maybe a colleague who is part of a wider project I am facilitating.

This doesn’t include the numerous people I come across during my working day, from the receptionist that greets me in a morning to wish me a good day and make general conversation about the weather, to the domestic staff who feel obliged to close my office door out of hours whilst they carry out their duties for fear of disturbing me, usually followed by a conversation around why I am still working at that time of night!

What I have found over the years are varying degrees of behaviours, communication skills, mannerisms….call it what you will.  Underneath we are all just human beings who have been brought up to have good manners and mutual respect of other people, no?

Why is it that some individuals act the way they do?  In my position there are certain approaches you would take to handling certain meetings whether it be a negotiation of a new contract with a supplier or an internal review meeting around contract performance, it may even be a 121 with a member of the team.  The discussion and approach taken will differ depending on the task in hand, but does that mean that I will not proffer refreshments and make general enquiries about an individual’s wellbeing and their journey that day prior to a meeting commencing?  No, in my opinion this is common courtesy.

Why is it the case that depending on another individuals ‘mood’ that day, depends on how they will greet you on the phone or in the corridor?  Dare I say we all have good and bad days, but does that mean everyone around us should be affected?  Again is it not common courtesy to be polite to everyone we come across?

Having reflected on a number of my own personal instances, is it because we are just too busy?  Workforce numbers are too constrained that no-one has the time to be polite and extend common courtesy anymore?  Maybe….

Is it a power thing?  Some individuals work their way up into senior management roles that they feel they no longer have to be polite and courteous and have a ‘you do as I say’ approach?  Maybe….

Is it possible that the person has no self-awareness of how they make you feel when they speak to you, that their clipped tone, mannerisms and rudeness is ‘normal?  Maybe….

Too busy?

Over the years I have reflected on many instances where I have been the recipient of all of the above instances on more than one occasion.  Yes, everyone appears to be under significant stress and time pressures that they just cannot afford you a quick timeout conversation, what is worrying is that it can be quite easy to fall into a trap where you surround yourself with tasks and to-do lists and forget that you have a network of support on your doorstep, whether it is your peer group, your team or even your line manager.  A corridor conversation can be so enlightening and tick-off many items on your to-do list, just by sparing five minutes or going for that cup of coffee!  It breaks up the day which may feel monotonous at times, and is no doubt adding to your stress levels.  Take some time-out, ensure you have rest breaks built into your day, go for a walk, grab some fresh air and enjoy the uplifting feeling this brings.

Power Struggle

I have also been the recipient of ‘power’, ‘do as I say’; it is a very difficult situation to be in especially when the individual concerned is not your line manager.  It is also a situation that requires a high level of resilience plus a supporting manager to assure you when times get difficult; again how self-aware is the person channeling these negative behaviours?  In my case, I thought I had a very good working relationship with the person involved, yet when the tough times hit, the good relations evaporated and I was faced with dealing with an extremely challenging individual having difficult discussions which violated my principals as a procurement professional.  In this instance it is imperative to notify and get support and advice from your line manager, forewarned is forearmed!  It is also important regardless of how upset and angry you are, to remove the emotion and look at the key facts of the matter in hand, this way you will ensure that your conversations are professional and focused.  Try position based thinking or in simple terms ‘put yourself in their shoes’ , try to understand the shift in their behaviour and style of communication, what has triggered such a drastic change?  In my case, it was a significant pressure applied top-down and in-turn a tactic deployed which brought all managers into the ‘line of fire’, great news to me as I knew then it wasn’t personal!  By keeping a consistent approach, fact based discussions and removing all emotion meant I personally got through my difficult time to a degree where things settled down and I felt more relaxed to discuss the incident with the person at hand.

Self-Awareness or lack of…

Another instance many years ago was in one of my first jobs, I was being trained by a colleague in another regional office, her manner with me face to face was lovely, she was approachable, explained everything and said I could call anytime if I needed any further advice.  Her phone manner when I did call up on one or two occasions was very different, she had a clipped tone and spoke like it was always inconvenient and proceeded to ‘tut’ if I explored her answers.  At the time I was young, naïve and inexperienced on how to handle this type of behaviour.  I choose on this occasion to talk to her as she spoke to me, which shocked her completely.  When she asked why I spoke to her in ‘such a manner’, I merely replied that I was mirroring her behaviour, needless to say she was completely unaware and apologised profusely.  I am not for one minute advising anyone to take this approach, but I do openly encourage a conversation with the person involved as they may lack self-awareness of their behaviours, feel free to ask your manager for support or a work colleague if you do not want anything too formal.

Am I being idealistic about common courtesy?   Should everyone extend politeness and good manners?  Absolutely, take a look in your proverbial ‘mirror ‘, what do you see?  Are you approachable, do you give off vibes that make people want to ‘open-up’ to you and respond positively in a willingness to work with you.  Do your team respect you?  Do your suppliers and internal customers think highly of you?  Are you the ‘go-to’ person for help and advice?  Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression!  Is this not at the heart of all relationships both inside and outside the workplace?

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