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Education competencies: Managing relationships

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Responds and relates well to people in all positions; is seen as a team player and is cooperative; looks for common ground and solves problems for the good of all.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Relates well to peers and to those in positions of authority Responds and relates well to peers and to those in positions of authority Responds and relates well to people in all positions, inside and outside his or her organization or field of expertise Responds and relates extremely well to people in all positions, initiating and maintaining relationships inside and outside his or her organization and field of expertise
Can be a team player and is cooperative Is seen as a team player and is cooperative Quickly finds common ground and tries to solve problems for all Builds trust and leads teams, encouraging others to step out of their comfort zones to form new interpersonal relationships
Can solve problems with peers with a minimum of noise Looks for common ground and solves problems for the good of all Values experience and likes to learn from those who have been there before Esteems those with experience, and openly relies on their expertise to benefit the organization
Is confident, relaxed with, and well-regarded by peers Represents his or her own interests and yet is fair to other groups Encourages collaboration and easily gains trust and support of others Has a knack for diplomacy and fosters goodwill between groups and organizations

Overdoing managing relationships

  • May be overdependent on authority figures for advice and counsel
  • May shut out other sources of feedback and learning
  • May pick the wrong role model; may be overly concerned with making everyone happy or be too accommodating
  • May invest too much in some relationships at the expense of others
  • May be uncomfortable with relationships where everyone’s not equal
  • May share sensitive information inappropriately just to solidify a relationship

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • Do I have good working and personal relationships with both my peers and with those in authority?
  • What common ground can I point out to help smooth over rough situations or relationships?
  • In what ways can I personally foster a new relationship between two people in my organization?
  • What people can I encourage to collaborate their efforts for the purpose of reaching the organization’s goal?
  • What is the worst-case scenario involving a difficult relationship, and what response should I prepare?
  • What informal meeting(s) can I orchestrate to promote a relaxed discussion with someone I am having personal problems with?
To avoid overdoing managing relationships, ask yourself:
  • Am I overly driven to make everyone happy?
  • Am I inappropriately free with information to gain others’ trust or friendship?
  • Am I choosing to follow the wrong role model?

Interview questions

  • Describe a time when you had to relate well to a variety of people, both inside and outside your organization, at different authority levels. What approaches did you use? To what extent did you vary them based on the person?
  • Describe specific actions you have taken to promote a cooperative team environment, even when others around you were negative or uncooperative. What did you do and what were the results?
  • Sometimes, it can be difficult to come up with win-win solutions to problems. Think back to a time when you took the lead in arriving at a solution that most satisfied all parties. What approach did you use to find common ground? To what extent did you get advice from others?

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Manage the rocky relationship: Focus on key problems. Keep conversations aimed at the core agenda. Try to be seen as cooperative; explain your thinking, and invite others to explain theirs.
  • Watch out for loose lips: Give your loyalty and support, and keep it to yourself unless it is related to breaches of ethics or integrity (take that to the proper authority). You can discuss difficulties you are having performing a task without questioning why you are assigned it.
  • Depersonalize and be neutral: Separate the person from the role; deal with people as individuals. Look for the good points in everyone, and show them respect. Try to look at things from their viewpoints without agreeing or disagreeing.
  • Try to learn from the situation: Consider what part you play in contributing to a rough situation. Learn to respond with something other than anger and blame. Maneuver through your organization by learning who the movers and shakers and the resisters and stoppers are.
  • Get feedback, and steer for smooth sailing: Ask others you trust for their views of you and the situation. Get advice about improving the situation from a trusted mentor. Do your best to get along with others for the good of the organization. Practice exchanging information and resources with others.
  • Find your triggers: Keep a private journal on what irritates you about others. Use this information to regulate your own behavior.
  • Know your leaders and peers, and use influence: Try to objectively describe others in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Consider who really wants to help and what they want. Understanding others enables you to positively influence them. Find common ground where you can help each other or trade something. Try to leave positive impressions on them. Appeal to the common good.
  • Learn from conflict: Develop common ground and show some patience. Know that always winning concessions may result in unbalanced relationships. Cooperate with others so they may do likewise.
  • Face others: Try to have a series of relaxed discussions with people with whom you are having difficulty. Use the word “I”; avoid the word “you.” Privately and politely confront others when there is a conflict. Explain the impact it has on you, and give the other person a chance to explain. Focus on how to accomplish work better, rather than on winning the argument.
  • Strike a bargain with yourself: Dedicate yourself to doing your best and not getting distracted by difficult relationships. Mentally rehearse bad scenarios and how you will deal with people. Make the best of a bad situation.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Relaunch a project or procedure that is not doing well.
  • Install a new process or system (new policies, new procedures).
  • Write a proposal for a new policy, process, or system, and then present it to key people.
  • Plan an off-site meeting, conference, or workshop.
  • Build a multifunctional project team to tackle a common problem.
  • Join a community board.
  • Resolve a conflict between two people or groups.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Form a learning network with others working on the same problem. Look for a variety of people, both inside and outside your organization. Give feedback to each other; try new things together; share successes and failures, lessons, and learning.
    • Think and talk more in probabilities and less in absolutes. Establish what’s real about your suggestions or ideas rather than trying to always be 100% correct. Tell people how sure you are before you make a statement.
    • Work with a development partner. Find a person you trust to be both candid and constructive, and team up with him or her. Construct effective strategies; give feedback; role-play tactics.
    • Preview a plan with a test audience. Find someone agreeable to a wide-ranging discussion about the issue you face. Explore all sides and options, and develop a plan as you go.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what these people do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from poor authority figures. Determine what makes them bad examples, if you are part of the problem, and if others regard them the same way. Avoid reacting out of anger and frustration, and resolve to not imitate poor behavior.
    • Learn from mentors and tutors. Be open and non-defensive; solicit and accept feedback.
    • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
    • Consolidate what you learn from people. Write down rules or principles you learn, and share them with others.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Get feedback from peers and colleagues. Promote trust to get honest, quality feedback.
    • Solicit feedback. Take the initiative in asking others for feedback about you; choose multiple sources and multiple methods.
    • Be open to feedback. Ask for examples and details; listen, take notes, and keep a journal.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Participate in insight events. Take a course designed to assess skills and provide feedback to help you develop self-knowledge

Recommended readings

  • Adair, John.Not Bosses But Leaders: How to Lead the Way to Success.London: Kogan Page, 2003.
  • Alessandra, Tony, and Michael J. O’Connor with Janice Van Dyke.People Smarts—Bending the Golden Rule to Give Others What They Want.San Diego. Pfeiffer & Company, 1994.
  • Allen, Janis, and Michael McCarthy.You Made My Day: Creating Co-Worker Recognition and Relationships.New York: Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2000.
  • Baker, Wayne E.Networking Smart.New York:, 2000.
  • Bing, Stanley.Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up.New York: HarperBusiness, 2002.
  • Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton.People Styles at Work—Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better.New York: AMACOM, 1996.
  • Brinkman, Rick, Ph.D., and Dr. Rick Kirschner.Dealing with People You Can’t Stand.New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994.
  • Carson, Kerry, Ph.D., and Paula Phillips Carson, Ph.D.Defective Bosses—Working for the Dysfunctional Dozen.New York: The Haworth Press, 1998.
  • Cava, Roberta,Dealing With Difficult People: How to Deal with Nasty Customers, Demanding Bosses and Annoying Co-Workers.Toronto, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2004.
  • Culbert, Samuel A., and John B. Ullmen.Don’t Kill the Bosses: Escaping the Hierarchy Trap.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2001.
  • Dobson, Michael Singer.Managing Up! 59 Ways to Build a Career-Advancing Relationship with Your Boss.New York: AMACOM, 2000.
  • Dominguez, Linda R.How to Shine at Work.New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2003.
  • Dowse, Eileen.The Naked Manger—How to Build Open Relationships at Work.Greensboro, North Carolina: Oakhill Press, 1998.
  • Fox, Jeffrey J.How to Become a Great Boss: The Rules for Getting and Keeping the Best Employees [Unabridged audio].New York: Time Warner Audio Books, 2002.
  • Fritz, Roger, and Kristie Kennard.How to Manage Your Boss.Hawthorne, NJ: Career Press, 1994.
  • Giovagnoli, Melissa, and Jocelyn Carter-Miller.Networlding: Building Relationships and Opportunities for Success.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc, 2000.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.