How to Build Productive Relationships

Case study:  Vincent connects with his team

I started working with Vincent because his manager was unhappy with his performance. He’d been in his role for a short time and his manager was struggling with his approach.

He wasn’t meeting expectations, constantly left work until the last minute, and was having trouble managing his team. 

Vincent was an introvert and his manager an extrovert. He preferred to work in a slow and deliberate manner, while his manager was a more fast-paced communicator. 

He procrastinated a lot and didn’t look after himself. Because he didn’t set appropriate deadlines with his team, they often let him down. This saw him working late into the night to get work done, which was dependent on their output.  

We started by blocking out time for high-value activities. We also discussed ways he could set more realistic deadlines with his team.  

Vincent started:

  • to be more realistic when committing to his own deadlines.
  • giving feedback to his team when they let him down so they understood how their fail to deliver impacted on him and his personal time. 
  • setting deadlines with a 20 per cent margin, asking for work sooner than he needed it.  This provided him with a cushion if work wasn’t delivered on time or to standard.  

In case he forgot to set realistic deadlines, we developed scripts for him to catch himself. 

Boss:   “Can you please have this completed by Tuesday? 

Vincent: Actually, can we make that Thursday? We will need to have it peer reviewed before delivering it to the client”  / “I can get that to you on Thursday.”  

Vincent also worked on developing a better relationship with his manager. He provided him with updates more regularly and acknowledged requests when they were made of him. He also prepared better for leadership meetings where he may be expected to ‘think on his feet’ – not a natural skill for him.  

The outcome of the work we did together saw Vincent became one of the highest performers in his team. He and his manager developed a better relationship, and his team started exceeding their key performance indicators.  

His team was happier because each member had a clear sense of purpose, and they were given clear guidelines on what success looked like in their roles.  

Vincent was happy because he was better able to serve the company, his clients and team by setting clearer boundaries and communicating upwards, downwards and side-wards proactively.  

How to Build Productive Relationships

I have endless examples of productive and unproductive relationships. Indeed, our relationships move from productive to unproductive and back again. A productive relationship is a partnership which achieves outcomes.

If you think about your relationships, they’ll fall somewhere in the matrix that follows on a scale of warmth and productivity, and fall within these four categories;

  • Warm and productive (Optimal)
  • Warm but not productive (Social)
  • Cold and productive (Stressful)
  • Cold and unproductive (Broken).
Description: Picture 2

Think about key relationships you have and identify ways you can make them more productive. Once you’ve identified where your relationships fall, consider how to move your relationships into the optimal quadrant.

Social relationships may be warm, yet don’t achieve productive outcomes. Others may be productive, but stressful. While you get work done, they cause you sleepless nights. Still others are neither warm, nor productive. Consider whether these can be saved or whether you need to exit the relationship.

Moving relationships from social to optimal usually requires asking better questions. 

Ask for what you want and need.

Moving relationships from broken to optimal usually requires understanding, forgiveness, empathy and compassion.

Most people have good intentions.  The trick is taking time to ask questions to understand what those intentions are..

Every time I’m working my way through a relationship issue, after my ego has done its thing by putting me there in the first place, I remind myself to try to understand the other party. 

Every time I am working my way through a relationship issue – after my ego has done its thing by putting me there in the first place – I remind myself to try to understand the other party.

This principle is all about understanding the person you’re building a relationship with before you try to put your point of view forward.  

Why this works:

When you make sure you understand someone before you put your opinions forward or offer them a solution, you’re more likely to communicate the information they need to know and encourage reciprocal respect to achieve optimal solutions. 

You create a relationship based upon empathy and can work together towards the best possible solution for both parties.

How to do it:  

Ask questions and use empathetic listening.  

Imagine a colleague is asking you to do work that will take you several hours, causing you to work late. Ask them what the problem is they’re trying to solve.. Once you’ve identified  the heart of the matter you’ll likely be able to meet them halfway, solving their problem without the additional hours added to your day.  

Communicate with people based on their thinking style. 

As a coach, one of the first things I establish with someone new is whether the person I am working with is an introvert or an extrovert, and the thinking styles of their manager, team and key stakeholders.

The answers can guide both the way you interact with others, and your personal working style.

For instance, I am an introvert. Although I love meeting with many different people and delivering workshops to large audiences, I feel physically drained afterwards. I need time alone after I’ve had a lot of social interactions to restore my energy.

In contrast, I once made an extroverted employee sit in an office for a full day in order to complete an important project over which she’d been procrastinating. By the end of the day she was almost scratching at the walls. She needed to interact with others to recharge frequently.

Extroverts like to bounce their ideas off other people. They tend to “think with their mouths”, get energy from interacting with others. Introverts prefer to think things through before putting their position forward. If you push introverts to make a decision by backing them into a corner they will probably “come out fighting”.  

These days, we also acknowledge people who sit on the scale between introversion and extraversion, known as ambiverts. They tend to need both quiet time and social time to restore their energy.

Why this works:  

When you communicate with someone in a manner that complements their thinking style, you’re more likely to make them feel comfortable as you’re providing the perfect conditions for them to make the best possible decisions.

How to do it:  

Let introverts think.  

Let extroverts talk.  

Today, with so many people being familiar with the traits made famous via Jung and Myers Briggs, if you ask someone whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, they’ll usually know. If it’s not appropriate to ask, look for clues. 

  • Do they prefer to bounce ideas off others (Extrovert)?
  • Do they prefer to think things through (Introvert)?  
  • Do they prefer large group interactions, like meetings? (Extroverts) 
  • Do they gravitate towards email or one-on-one discussions? (Introverts)
  • Do they prefer email communication? (Introverts) 
  • Are they quiet in large meetings unless necessary? (Introverts) 

If you’re building a relationship with an extrovert, ask them questions. Let them talk through concepts and bounce ideas off you when you’re working towards decisions. 

When working with introverts don’t put them on the spot. They usually prefer to have agendas prior to meetings and like to gather their thoughts and prepare for discussions. Give them the information they need to make a decision, and the time and space to think things through.

Misunderstandings frequently occur when extroverts think introverts should think on their feet more; or when introverts think extroverts should stop changing their minds.  

Understand one another’s thinking style and you will be better equipped to provide both communicators with their needs, and ultimately gain greater productivity.

Communicate with people based upon their communication style.

We’ve previously discussed tailoring your message to the communication needs of your audience. 

Why this works:  

We all prefer to communicate and listen based upon our own communication preferences. We may be alienating 75 per cent of the people we talk to by providing too much, too little or the wrong information. 

How to do it:  

Make sure you provide people with the information most important to them when communicating messages. When communicating to an audience, ensure you’ve covered the “why”, “what”, “how”, “what if” and, where relevant, the “when”.

When communicating one-on-one, provide the person with the information that matters to them the most. In group settings you’ll need to hit every note, knowing that you’ll reach everyone at different points in your presentation.   

“Why”: people want to know why things are done.

Most of us want to know why you need us to work on something. Strong “why” people, however, will procrastinate or simply not do a task if they don’t understand why it should be done. They’ll view the task as discretionary.  

“What”: people tend to be focused on results and outcomes.  

They don’t care about how things will be done, and frankly, often find it annoying when you go into too much detail because you’re either boring them or insulting their intelligence.  

They don’t want to waste their time talking about things they don’t need to know, or already know.

When you’re talking to “what” people you should start with the end in mind. What is the result you’re trying to achieve? What do you need from them? 

If something goes wrong, don’t bore a “what” person with the detail, just tell them what happened and what you’re going to do about it.  

If they want more information they will ask for it.  

“How”: people tend to be more detailed communicators and want to talk about process.  

Operations Managers tend to be “how” people.  

If you’re a “what” person, you’ll tend to be the person who “dumps and runs” when you delegate tasks. “How” people will struggle with this because they want to know how you’d like them to perform the task. 

“How” people will also want to give you a lot of information when they are explaining something.  If this is you, watch to see if the people you’re talking to have glazed eyes. Take it as a sign to stick to the headlines, you’re probably talking to a “what” person and you’re boring them with too much information.  

“What if”: people tend to be future focused.  

“What if” people have their eyes on the blue skies ahead. They often are forward thinking and have a clear vision of what the future might look like.  

It can be a bit difficult to speak to them sometimes, as you want to tell them about a decision you need them to make now. Their mind immediately goes to what could happen five years down the track based on the decision or the endless possibilities.

If you’ve worked with a blue-sky thinker, a “what if” person, you’ll know what I mean. These are the people who start their thinking well into the future and then reverse engineer a solution.  As compared to “what” people, their end thought is future focused. They see things that most of us don’t and further than many of us can.

If you have them working use them to identify creative opportunities to disrupt your market. 

Start with possibilities. Say, “I have a decision to make and it could lead to this outcome down the track”. Talk about possibilities and risks and guide them back to the now, rather than starting with the decision and following their strategic minds down the proverbial (and sometimes unproductive) rabbit hole. 

Of course we all display these attributes in different strengths. Building productive relationships is all about understanding each other’s strengths and leveraging them to achieve common goals.  

Create opportunities to collaborate using each person’s thinking style effectively, and communicate with people based on their strengths and what’s important to them.

Calls to action:


  • Which of these techniques will help you deepen the relationships you’ve identified?
  • What is your secret to building productive relationships? 

Habits to work on:

  • Determine the thinking style and communication approach that best meets your audience
  • When addressing a group, either in person of via written communication, make sure you’re addressing all parts of the communication approach (What? Why? How? What if? When?)

Let us know how you go!

Keep moving forward,

Cholena xoxo

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