Good managers build bridges, don't start brawls

Columnist Dave Conrad says colleague can be a coach, but shouldn't cover for a fellow manager who won't change his ways.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug

Dear Dave -- I work with a fellow manager who seems to always want to get into fights with other managers, his employees, and just about everyone for that matter. He has some management skills, except for building relationships at work. I have tried to cover for him, but my colleagues realize that I am doing the relationship building and not him. I don’t want to see him throw everything away because of his poor social skills. What can I do? -- T

Well, your heart is in the right place, but you cannot and should not cover for your colleague every minute of the day. From what you describe, I am amazed that your colleague has been able to keep his job. When it comes to the most crucial management skills, relationship building is at the top of the heap. I will present ideas and suggestions that you can share with your colleague.

So much of what we try to accomplish in the workplace relies on strong connections and having the trust and respect of our colleagues. There are few things at work that can elevate our spirits as much as taking the time to form bonds with our coworkers. Teams fall apart if everyone runs in different directions, and no one is communicating with each other.

Relationship building at work requires trust – a shared purpose and a willingness to depend on each other. Without it, your colleagues might be hesitant to back your ideas and support you. Trust can help you accomplish goals. And I firmly believe that if you give trust, it will be returned to you. Simply, forming trust with your coworkers is mandatory.

When you want project or task success, you first need to build rapport with your team – and getting to know your colleagues will pay dividends. If you can demonstrate sincerity, dependability, fairness, and approachability, coworkers are more likely to back your ideas and proposals. That is how relationships are built.


I think the most successful leaders try hard to find genuine common ground through being open to the ideas of others. They don’t play mind games, nor do they state hunches and assumptions that lack any factual substance. They try hard to listen to others and show that they are genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Good leaders remain positive and friendly. It doesn’t matter where they are or who they are talking to, they build bridges rather than starting brawls. These leaders bring out the best in others by recognizing their qualities and characteristics.

What you can say to your brawling colleague

It sounds like you are close to this troublesome colleague, so – with all gentleness and sincerity – tell him that you have some ideas that may help him be more successful at work. If he tells you to hit the road, at least you tried. Sadly, there is a strong chance that he will get fired. But if you keep trying and you can get a discussion going with him, here are some ideas you can try to relate to him in a calm and peaceful setting.

Learn to listen to others – This is the key to building mutual respect with your colleagues and especially with your customers. Listening is essential for effective discussion to take place. Advise your colleague to hear more than he says. To kick it up a notch, your colleague should learn to ask probing questions regarding his coworkers’ roles, experiences, tough problems they are encountering, and even their interests.

Do not interrupt others when they are speaking – Don’t we all dislike people who interrupt us constantly and act like we are 10 miles away? I would bet anything that your colleague regularly dominates discussions. A reliable way to lose the attention and respect of others is to talk over them and virtually shut them down. People are hurt when bullies run over them, and they will never forget who did it.

Welcome the ideas and opinions of diverse people – The practice of considering all viewpoints and ideas into the decision process will elevate your colleague toward a leadership status and most certainly will increase his approachability – people will not hesitate to talk to him, and they will value his opinions more.

Be respectful at all times – So much of what we accomplish in the workplace relies on building relationships and having the trust of our colleagues, and when we take the time to connect and understand, and recognize and praise each other when praise is due, we’re showing respect and allowing ourselves to get close to people.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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