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The Do/Don’t List of How to Build Relationships With Your Employees

The relationships that you form with each of your direct reports are central to your ability to fulfill your responsibilities as a manager. It’s a careful balancing act: You need to care personally, without getting creepily personal; you need to challenge people directly, without creating a vicious cycle of discouragement and failure.

The terms I would use to describe a good relationship between a manager and a direct report are radical candor. How can you build such a relationship with your subordinates?

▶ Don’t focus on socializing. Do listen and care: If the only way you build relationships with your employees is by socializing, one of two bad things will happen: You won’t work enough at work, or your work social obligations will take over your schedule. Instead, one of the best ways to build a good relationship with your employees is to make sure they feel heard on the job. Make sure you know what your people are thinking. Solicit their feedback and show you care. Set up one-on-one meetings and show that you are listening.

▶ Don’t focus on chitchat. Do focus on feedback: Your employees don’t really want to gab with you about sports or the weather. What they want from their boss is somebody who can help them grow professionally. You’ll build better relationships by sharing your feedback than by having idle conversation. Praise your employees early, often and in public. Be specific about what they’re doing well and why.

▶ Don’t focus on perks. Do focus on achieving results collaboratively: Extra vacation, free lunches and fabulous office space can feel exceptionally empty if your team isn’t achieving results, if they are achieving results the wrong way or if their contributions to success aren’t recognized. To improve your relationship with the people on your team, take the time to help them nurture new ideas; create a culture of debate for important topics; make it clear who owns decisions and why; ensure that employees have time to execute; and be open to admitting mistakes and learning from them.

▶ Don’t be promotion-obsessed. Do focus on career conversations: Helping employees achieve their career goals will certainly help you build better relationships. Ask your employees about their life stories and dreams for the future.

The best way to build relationships with your employees is to improve how you work together, not to take a break from working. Listen to your subordinates and offer feedback to help them grow. Achieve results collaboratively and have the kind of career conversations that help each employee take a step in the direction of their dreams.

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