by Morag Barrett

4 critical questions for every professional relationship

Nov 29, 2016
CareersIT LeadershipRelationship Building

Learn the four questions we ask ourselves consciously or subconsciously about our colleagues. Are you four yeses or for noes?

Have you ever been blindsided by a colleagues words or actions? Or maybe been part of a team that spent more time complaining about others in the business rather than collaborating and solving the business decision at hand?

If you have answered yes to either or both questions then you are probably not in an Ally relationship, or even on a team of allies. You have yet to reach what I call the “four yeses.”

What do I mean by the four yeses? Well in any interaction, we are sizing each other up and asking ourselves (consciously or subconsciously) four questions. The answers to each question determine whether you, or the request you are making of me, is worth my time, interest, trust and effort. Essentially, they determine whether or not we will have an Ally relationship. Those four questions are:

1. Can I count on you?

This is the reactive perspective. When asked to do something, or a piece of work is delegated to you, you do it and deliver on time, with the required quality of work and professionalism.

2. Can I depend on you?

This is the proactive perspective. When you see a need, you step up and do what is required, provide feedback, correct the typo in a document, go out of your way to help others succeed.

In my experience these two questions are where most business relationships start, and stop. These two questions focus on the transactional nature of business, on the what and results that need to be delivered. Do what you say you are going to do and you will meet expectations. However, you won’t necessarily exceed expectations. In a crisis we may not ask each other for help, or be able to rely on each other.

Answering yes to these two questions will likely feel like “You do your stuff, I’ll do mine and we’ll be OK.” But in today’s work “OK” is rarely enough.

In order to become an Ally, a trusted partner, you need to move the relationship to the next level; this is where the final two questions are critical.

3. Do I care about you?

This is not about a “group hug” or “trust fall.” Rather do I care about your success as much as I do my own. Am I willing to defer my project for yours because it’s the right thing for you or for the business? Do I care about your intent, feelings and emotions? Am I am able to empathize, and do we connect at a personal level? Am I willing to share my rock-star employee with you, transfer them to your team, because it’s the right thing for the project or for them.

4. Do I trust you?

This is the most important question of all. Trust is the foundation for Ally relationships, trust is what enables me to let my guard down and be the real me. To take informed risk without fear that mistakes will be punished, but rather will be treated as learning opportunities.

This last question often causes a lot of debate in my keynote presentations or workshops. Many times people will say that you have to earn trust. Get to yes for questions 1 and 2 and eventually you will get to yes for this question. However this is another way — to choose to give trust, to set expectations from the outset.

To reinforce this point think about the last time you got on an airplane. My guess is that you gave trust immediately to the pilot, that you could count on them to get you to your destination on time, and depend on them to do it in one piece. You gave trust to a stranger, a voice on the radio.

Then why is it that you hesitate to give trust to your colleague? Someone you know and see every day?

These last two questions are transformational in nature. They focus on how business gets done and the interpersonal dynamics.

Why does cultivating winning relationships matter?

I firmly believe that the world of work is a team sport. The biggest team sport any of us get to play. Which means we are dependent on others for our success. We must pay attention to how and when we cultivate professional relationships at work. Unfortunately many people simply focus on getting to “yes” with questions 1 and 2. In doing so, they are missing a powerful opportunity to cultivate a winning relationship.

Without a positive answer to the third question and more importantly the fourth, you will struggle to achieve an Ally relationship. This is what differentiates an acquaintance from a friend, a coworker from a trusted partner, what I describe as a Supporter — or Rival — to an Ally.

My challenge to you is to take a moment and consider your goals both professional and personal. Who has the ability to help or prevent you from achieving your goals? These are your critical stakeholders, relationships that you should be investing in now to ensure your success.

As you think about these four questions and the professional relationships that you identify as critical to your success, remember that this is a two-way street. It isn’t enough for you to be able to answer “yes” to each question as you think about about your colleagues. It is also whether they can answer “yes” to all four questions when they think their experience of working with you.