Thursday, April 30, 2009

Harness the power of your peers


Talula Cartwright,

IN GOOD times and bad, peer relationships can make or break you. Your peers hold the keys to resources, expertise and support and can be a powerful asset in both the short- and long-term. To work well with your peers and to leverage each other's strengths, you need to be able to effectively resolve conflict, give and receive feedback and build solid relationships.

Every relationship is not the same. You may work with peers in your department or across the organisation. With some peers, you have overlapping responsibilities and frequent interaction; with others, your relationship is indirect. Therefore, what is good enough in one relationship may lead to difficulties in another.

So, it is imperative to give peer relationships an honest evaluation and focused attention. Doing so will give you an advantage over those who ignore or mismanage their colleagues.

Work through conflict

Power is often the silent partner in conflict. During a conflict, your peers may feel threatened, their authority questioned or dismissed, or their hard-won territory under assault.

Issues of authority and responsibility, power, long-term and short-term success work their way into disagreements and disputes. By understanding the hidden power dynamics, you will be better equipped to confront conflict. Several actions that leaders can take to work through conflict are:

• Change your perspective. Trying to genuinely understand the other person's point of view instead of dismissing it outright, is a good start towards resolving conflict. Focusing on his words and behaviour, and not your own assumptions, can help bring out better perspective.

• Focus on solutions. Work with your peers to come up with ways to resolve a problem instead of focusing on blame. Identify multiple potential solutions and be willing to compromise. Remember that the objective is to look for a solution, not a victory.

• Express emotions. Feelings are often at the core of a conflict. It is better to express them in a forthright, appropriate way than having pent-up emotions leak or gush out. It is important to consider the opportune time to do so.

• Reach out. Make the first move to break a deadlock, resume communication or make amends. Taking the first step can be a risk, but it can have a tremendous positive impact as well.

• Reflect. Thinking before acting is always a safe course of action. Weigh the pros and cons and consider the best resolution to the problem. It is important to remember the time-honoured motto TLC: Think, listen, communicate.

• Take a time-out. Acting rashly can often have negative consequences. Try to let things calm down and give yourself time to think through the issue before giving a response.

• Adapt. Stay flexible to ensure conflict does not cause unnecessary problems in the future.

Give and seek feedback

Constructive feedback is part of a healthy relationship and should be a part of peer interaction. It can be a tool to strengthen good relationships and improve difficult ones. Feedback can be a sensitive issue, though. A helpful method is the Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) approach:

1. Briefly describe the situation and setting where the behaviour occurred.

2. Communicate specifically what behaviours need to be changed.

3. Describe what the impact of the behaviour is.

When you skilfully deliver feedback to your peers, you are establishing an honest relationship focused on desired outcomes. The SBI model is helpful for letting your peers know when they have been inappropriate or need to improve. It can also be used for sharing good news.

You will also want to seek feedback, both positive and critical. Not all of your peers will be a helpful or ongoing source. So, before eliciting feedback, consider your best sources to turn to.

If giving feedback is unusual in your workplace, you may need to consider your challenges, expectations and goals before asking for feedback.

The more specific and targeted your feedback, the more helpful it is to you. Hence, instead of asking for general feedback, you should clearly ask for that which pertains to your goals.

Once you are comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, do it every day. The more often you receive feedback, the easier it is to be aware of what you are doing well and what you need to continue working on.

Build relationships

Your position in an organisation rarely equates to an ability to get things done. Peer relationships are essential to accomplishing your goals.

Influencing others and networking are the essential skills for developing effective relationships, and the ability to do so requires specific efforts, such as identifying and understanding their concerns, issues, agenda, perspectives and priorities.

You have to establish which peers you need to influence and the desired outcome.

It is also necessary to establish rapport that encourages openness and connection with peers, to exhibit a willingness to work together and appreciate efforts undertaken as well as to share your assets and capabilities, communicate effectively, listen sincerely and hone your negotiating skills.


The writer is an adjunct faculty member of the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education.


For more details, visit website or contact CCL -Asia at 6854 6000.

From TODAY, Succeed – Monday, 27-April-2009


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