Building Effective Relationships Within Business
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Cathy Casey about building effective relationships in the workplace. Some of what they discuss include:
– Why is it important to build effective relationships for both individuals and the organisations they work for
– Technical competency vs People skills
– The role of state of mind in engaging with others
– A couple of case studies to demonstrate what it takes to get in connection with someone else
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To contact Cathy and find out more about her work, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:00:03.01] Ankush: Welcome to the business series podcast. My name is Ankush Jain, and I’m a state of mind coach, working with businesses and individuals. On each episode of this series, I’ll be speaking to a coach or trainer on a different topic relevant to your career or personal development. Enjoy.
[00:00:24.08] Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the Business Series podcast. Today I’m joined by Cathy Casey, who’s a training consultant, who has worked with both public and private sector bodies, all around the world. Cathy is someone I’ve known for some time, and today we’re going to be talking about building effective relationships within business. So welcome Cathy.
[00:00:48.12] Cathy: Hi.
[00:00:50.01] Ankush: So I’d like to jump straight into the topic, because we like to keep these nice and short and bitesize. Why is it important to build effective relationships within organisations?
[00:01:00.00] Cathy: Well, it’s interesting, when we think of organisations, we think of these huge complex bureaucratic organisations with systems and layers and all of that hierarchies, but actually when you think about any organisation, whether it’s private or public, what it boils down to is, human beings are working in that organisation. So, any time you engage with any person, no matter where you are, it boils down to getting a connection with that other human being, whether it’s your colleague, whether it’s your manager, whether you’re managing people, it’s all based on how those relationships go, and if relationships are great and things are going smoothly and people have open discussions and rapport with each other, you can bet that that organisation’s going to be successful. If on the other hand, it’s the other direction, then you’re going to see an organisation that’s very bogged down, can’t get things done, it’s very adversarial, so to me, it’s really really important. It boils down to human relationships, regardless of where a person is in the company.
[00:02:20.19] Ankush: So just what had occurred to me Cathy is, is this important both on an organisational level, where an organisation might want to facilitate or encourage effective relationships amongst their employees, but it’s also important, would you say, on an individual level. If I’m working within an organisation, and I want to do well in my career, or even just maybe I’m not ambitious, maybe I just want to get stuff done in my current role, it’s also important on an individual level that the more effective I am at building those relationships, the more effective I will be at my job?
[00:02:54.27] Cathy: Absolutely, and where I see the wear and tear with working with people within an organisation, is the amount of, I would say, energy people have at looking at what’s wrong with other people, looking at difficult people or trying to work around them, or trying to get them to perform or avoiding them. Every organisation I’ve ever worked in, this is the biggest problem, is just being able to navigate through working with all different kinds of people, because we assume once a person has a job title, that they’re competent, that they’re able to do their job, when that’s not true. So, how do I function if I’m working with other people who are not at the level that they should be at? Or have some weird things that are going on about them? Or causing problems in the organisation? So, to me, me on knowing how to navigate through all of that, and having an understanding of what set of eyes do I want to have on that, can make a huge difference. I wish I knew this when I worked in organisations, because I finally left because in my mind it was too much work, it drained me, when actually, the organisation did not drain me. It was how I saw it that drained me, and now I see it totally different, and that’s what I do now is, help people understand how they operate in the organisation, but why other people are operating the way they do also.
[00:04:27.28] Ankush: So is this, are you talking about sometimes people get promoted into a position because they might be competent at their job, but that doesn’t mean they’re able to also effectively manage or interact with other people in the organisation? And it sounds like what you’re saying is, we don’t need to wait for them to change, because it’s very difficult to get your leaders or other people to change the way they are, but the more that we can see how to build effective relationships, that’s the kind of greatest leverage point.
[00:04:55.14] Cathy: Absolutely. It’s funny, I intuitively knew this, I saw that happen a lot where people would get promoted because they were good at something, but yet when it came down to them managing other people, or helping organisations do tasks or make things happen, they didn’t have what you call the people skills. So, when I saw that, I thought, I need to get connected to this person. Now at the time I would have a lot of judgement about it, oh, there’s another one, there we go again, he shouldn’t be in this job, he’s not good for his position. Now me sitting in judgement about that, is not going to do anything for me or that other person, so now I look at a person who’s innocently been promoted, and not allowed to even say, “I don’t know how to do this,” I mean there’s a lot of pressure on people, so my job is to get an understanding of them in general, and get that connection, and I cannot express enough the power of having a connection with anybody. The lowest functioning employee, all the way up to the highest functioning employee or person in a company, my connection to them is where my impact and power comes from.
[00:06:13.25] Ankush: Is this about just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? I mean how do we build effective relationships, is it as simple as that or is there something more to it?
[00:06:24.08] Cathy: It’s a combination of both, so there’s a word I like to use regardless of where people work. It’s the sense of being of service to another human being, and what that means is, I come out of Cathy, and I just want to get an understanding, well who is this person, how do they see their world, how do they see what they’re doing that I may totally disagree with, so my job is to get an understanding of that. Now that doesn’t mean I agree with it, but if I’m trying to hold, say an employee accountable, who’s not performing their job, I want to find out, well why is that? Now, that doesn’t mean I get into their whole history, I’m not a social worker, but I still want to get, well what’s going on within them that’s making it difficult for them to produce, and let me tell you, most people don’t even bother to check in. They may just try to tell them longer and louder and try to say more of the same thing over and over again and the person keeps bouncing back, so my job is, what’s going on within that person? And then, kind of helping them realise that, in whatever makes sense to me in the moment.
So, I know a lot of managers in this big defense company who people get promoted because of their technical skills, but yet they can’t deliver on deadlines for their team. Well that boss needs to find out, well what’s holding that up? But see we don’t see that as part of our job description, talking about this intangible piece, meaning, where is the person’s state of mind? Are they listening, are they with you, or are they zooming in their head about anything else but being present with you? So there’s a piece that we don’t consider when we engage with other human beings, and that’s, are they with me, listening, present with me, am I present with them? Or is my mind going a million miles a minute about, this person is driving me crazy, I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over again, or, whatever thinking I’m going to have and then they’re in their thinking, and so the connection’s not going to happen, so it takes me coming out of me to get a hit off of, well what’s up here? And then I take, then I decide what I’m going to do about that, see that’s part of being a boss or even a colleague. How am I going to work with this person if they’re not present with me, or I’m not present with them? So, that’s to me, the most, getting that connection, getting an understanding, and again, that goes a long way, more than people realise, somebody who’s a problem in an organisation, people want to run in the other direction, so my job is to go in, and get curious with it, now tell me how do you see this? And most people never get listened to, they never get heard, and that to me is a big piece of it also. Now if it’s still not working out, and they’re still not performing, then you have to do what’s necessary, but at least you’ve looked in that direction enough to see what’s going on here, and maybe it turns out the person’s not right for the job, and you do have to take measures, but to me that’s really important, it’s to get that curiosity.
[00:09:50.04] Ankush: And I’ve seen, you and I have done some work together and I’ve seen you do this first hand, and you’re brilliant at it, so this is not something you’re just saying as a nice thing, I’ve really witnessed this, and what occurred to me as you were talking Cathy is that, actually how, if managers or leaders or just individuals, if we don’t see this, then what occurs out of that is we kind of push more, and assume, and I’ve done this myself, I kind of hold my hand up to this, and the impact of that is always negative, whereas the impact of what you’re saying, of really, well what’s going on for this person, why are they acting in that way? Because it will make sense to them, often has the opposite effect and is likely to get you closer to what you want and facilitate that deeper relationship.
[00:10:44.08] Cathy: And can be so simple, somebody could be sitting across from you and all of a sudden it dawns on you, their mind is… they’re not with you, and you can even say, now help me understand… are you able to hear what I’m saying right now? Or what are you hearing right now? It’s just a simple, well what are you hearing right now? That can go a long way. A lot of times we just sort of talk at people, assume they’re hearing us and they go off and they haven’t heard a thing, and then they bounce back and you’re like, okay, I just need to say it slower and louder, and then we do it again, as opposed to checking in, noticing are they with me, and even bringing it to their attention, you know, John, I notice when we get together, I sense that your mind is on other things, what do you think? Even helping them realise it, because they don’t see it either, and it could take a moment to do that, just a moment, but see, I have to have eyes for it, and that’s what a lot of people in leadership positions, they don’t have eyes for that.
[00:11:50.07] Ankush: So what would you say to someone who’s listening to this, and is thinking, well, that sounds great, but some people are just better at building effective relationships, and some people aren’t, and I’ve tried to put myself in other people’s shoes, I’ve tried to listen, and it’s nice in theory, I wish I could do it, but that’s just not how I am.
[00:12:13.14] Cathy: Okay, well I’ll give you a great example, I got to work with a group of engineers, and when we first started talking about this, you can imagine, they’re like, why would that be a concern of mine? The guy just needs to know his job, and if he’s not doing his job, then I’m stuck, I’m just stuck with this, or I’ll try to move him out of my shop as soon as possible, and so we got to work with this group of engineers, and it’s interesting, we had them role play it. We actually had them role playing, meaning, instead of talking at a person, so we set up a scenario where an employee wasn’t working out, they’re not getting anywhere and they’ve talked to the guy three times, I said, okay, let’s look at it differently, let’s look at, well where do you think this guy’s state of mind is? Well, it’s on everything but the task at hand, it could be a lot of insecurity, it could be they’re feeling pressure, it could be there are problems on the home front, whatever, now, how is your state of mind as the manager? Is your mind going a mile a minute about, oh, I’m stuck with this guy, what am I going to do with this guy? So if you’re sitting there with that on your mind, and they’re sitting there with whatever they have on their mind, how well do you think that’s going to go?
See, so when the engineers got a sense of that, I said, when there’s noise in the system, then things aren’t going to click, they’re not going to run smoothly, and they got that pretty quickly like, well yeah, when you think about it in terms of mechanically, so, I said, yeah, you need to kind of make sure there’s no noise in your system, and then, well is there noise in their system? And woah, that was huge, just having an awareness of that was a big deal, and then, it was like the idea of coming out of your own thinking about what you think is going on, because a lot of times we assume what’s going on, and literally kept checking in, well, now what’s your take on this? With the other guy. And a lot of times they either have their own take or they don’t even have a take, well, I’m not sure… And that tells you a lot, like they don’t even know what they’re doing or what they’re thinking, so fleshing that out is huge, to me that’s what’s been holding everything up, and so when I say have a set of eyes, I mean, getting a sense of, am I present, and is the other person present? If the other person isn’t present, then my job is to somehow help them get present with me, either bringing it to their attention, or me seeing that and then helping them understand that maybe that’s the problem, but the invisible piece is never addressed in management. There are a lot of techniques which can be very helpful, there are a lot of ideas, but this piece to me is the foundation for everything else.
[00:15:24.10] Ankush: Do you have a case study where you’ve maybe worked with an organisation and you’ve helped them build better relationships with each other and what the impact of that has been?
[00:15:39.02] Cathy: Well it’s sort of like that, I came up with an example a situation I was involved in, where I had to engage with a very difficult person, okay, somebody who is like really difficult. I became colleagues with a woman who was in charge of, she was the head of the union for professional people in this huge county government where I live. It’s a big deal position. She’s like a labour boss but not blue collar, but white collar, and we just had a relationship. We would get together for coffee, whatever, she heard me speak somewhere, she liked what I said, but we just talked about life, there was no agenda. Well one day she got a call, apparently the director of nursing in this huge public hospital, where I reside, one of their top nurse managers commited suicide, well loved, well liked, and she committed suicide, and so, the entire organisation was just freaking out. The head of the professional organisation recommended me to this director, she said, I think Cathy Casey could be helpful.
Now, the first thing that dawned on me was, oh, somebody committed suicide, so you would think right away, oh, they’re going to want something around grief, or they’re going to want something around depression… You could easily go in with kind of a preconceived idea of what’s needed. I was also warned this woman’s difficult. She came up through the ranks, she was an emergency room nurse, she’s from New York, tough cookie. She’s had to work in a mans world, so she was a very tough cookie, so I said, “fine, thanks for the information.”
So when I went in, the first thing she said to me, she looked at me and she said, “I only have 20 minutes,” very intensely, “I only have 20 minutes,” and I said, “no problem, so please tell me, what is it that’s going on?” So she started talking about what happened, and the impact it’s having and, well an hour and a half later, I was still listening to her. The woman who only had 20 minutes for me. Now I didn’t go in to kind of present a package on – I could do a training to help people deal with their grief and help them understand what happens when we lose somebody that we’re… I could have done a whole programme on that, but I went in clueless. I went in 100% curious, what’s up with this director of nursing, like, how does she see this whole thing? An hour and a half later, she just… every now and then I tried to come in asking, well tell me more about this or, now what do you mean by that? So I did those kinds of questions but, which helped her even share more, and so at the end, she kind of looked at me, and I looked ah her and I said, “given everything you just shared with me, what do you want for your nurses? What do you want for your people?” And she said, “dammit, I want them to be able to bounce back. They need to know that this is a tough job, and yes things can go wrong, and yes we’re under a lot of pressure, but I want them to know how to bounce back.” And so I looked at her, and said “then you’re speaking of resiliency,” and she said, “yes,” and then we designed the programme from there.
Now I sat with her without anything on my mind about what I felt was needed, and she told me all this stuff, which nobody ever spent that much time with her, and just got present with her. People, when I came out of the meeting, her office people looked at me like, how did that happen? Nobody gets that much time with her. See, what happened was, when I walked in, I felt her intensity, I felt it, so I knew I had to go in the opposite direction, like super present, meaning, okay, what’s up here in front of me, what’s up with this person? And I had to forget everything I’d heard of how difficult she was, and I had to get that connection with her, and she felt it. That’s why she kept talking, that’s why she kept sharing, and believe me, I think even she was surprised at the end, because she looked, she said, “oh my heavens…” even she was surprised, because there was no sense of time.
So to me, that’s what it takes, if you want to get any kind of impact or leverage with another human being, the first thing you have to do is get outside of you. Literally clear the decks, just your in, you don’t know, you’re going into a whole new culture, you’re like an anthropologist. Okay now, why is this person seeing it this way? That’s interesting, they eat their food in these leaves, and they have a special ceremony about how they do this, now why is that? See if we went to another culture, we would be very curious, now why are they doing that? As opposed to, oh well man, that’s not cool, we don’t do it that way at home, why are they doing it that way? This is the way they should do it. Why would they waste all that time when…? See if you’re listening to somebody through the lens of your own thinking, you will not get them, you will not understand them, and they won’t feel you either. So to me, this is the secret. This is my secret. Me knowing this has allowed me to work in more environments than most people do, from prisons to corporations, to governmental programmes, do defense programmes to scientific organisations, because, I know what it takes to make that connection.
[00:21:57.05] Ankush: This is a really fascinating example because, I’m listening to you and I’m thinking, if I was listening to this and I’m working in a large organisation, there might be someone that I know in that organisation, whether it’s someone I report to, whether it’s a senior leader, whether it’s someone who works for me, where I’ve already got an opinion of them based on my experience, but what I’m hearing from you is, that if you go into every interaction, every conversation with your existing judgements and opinions and beliefs about someone, you’re going to end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the only way to get past that, and get to a more effective, a deeper, a more useful relationship with another person, is to drop all of that like you dropped it with this lady.
[00:22:41.26] Cathy: It’s absolutely necessary, again if you want to be of service to that person, one last quick example, I’m working with a married couple, but my job was to work with the wife, and it came out that the husband had been doing all these bad things, I won’t even get into all the horrific things, and so when I got the call from her, and I had been working with her a little bit, and then she tells me all this stuff that came out when they were working with another therapist as a couple, and I heard all this stuff, my first thought was, get the best lawyer you can get, and take him for every dime he has. That was my first thought, you know, as a woman. I couldn’t help it, I absolutely was beyond upset hearing what she shared with me, but then right after that went through my mind, I realised if I was going to be of service to her, this is not about Cathy and Cathy’s beliefs.
I needed to get an understanding and help her get clear within her own mind what she wants to do, not what I think she should do. And I’ll be honest with you, in all the work I’ve done over the years, this was the most challenging for me, because it really, you know how you say, “walk your talk,” you know what I mean? I really had to walk my talk, it was an opportunity, every time I worked with this woman, to see, okay, clear that Cathy, this is not about you, this is about her, and I’m so grateful for that experience, because she did get connected to herself and she’s this amazing grounded person, and she’s still in the relationship because of her culture, where divorce is not allowed, but she’s now a fully functional, happy human being, and the husband is changing also.
So, that was a beautiful example of me seeing how much of my personal thinking that was going to be of no use to her, and that I had to realise that, and if I couldn’t get past it, I would have to refer her out. Seriously, if I could not get passed my own thinking about it, and really be neutral enough to work with her, I would not, it wouldn’t be ethical for me to continue.
[00:25:01.05] Ankush: So what’s the one takeaway you’d like people to leave this episode with?
[00:25:05.25] Cathy: I think the biggest takeaway is, to get a sense of where you are, meaning, I’m not telling people they have to be neutral or that they have to be present to get a connection, to have impact and have leverage, but I want people to start to become aware of the fact of how much we aren’t there, and just appreciate how much we have in our minds about people we work with or even people within our own families. Just start to appreciate that. Just seeing that it’s even there to me is 98% of it. Sometimes I have no idea how much thinking I have on a situation or another person, until I’m in reaction, until I can feel a tightness or I can feel this urgency or pressure. Just see that and appreciate that, wow, am I too much in my head about this? And you can’t make yourself come out of that, like with this woman I told you about, I couldn’t make myself not have those feelings I had about, in my mind, how horrible he was as a husband. But ultimately I knew that that’s just Cathy, and if I really wanted to be of service to her, then that’s what it would take, and to me that’s what we’re here for, whether we’re in coaching mode or therapist or a manager, or just being part of a family, we’re here to be of service, to connect to others, and to me, that’s the most important thing.
So, don’t be hard on yourself, we’re all human, and it’s inevitable we’re going to think certain ways, but if we can just get a tiny sense that that piece might be getting in the way of the connection.
[00:27:00.12] Ankush: Thank you so much for your time today, if someone’s listening to this and they want to connect with you or find out more about the work you do in organisations, what’s the best way to get hold of you?
[00:27:09.29] Cathy: Okay they best way for me is email, which would be: email@example.com
[00:27:22.15] Ankush: Fantastic, thanks for joining us, and thank you for this discussion, and I’ll be back next time with another episode.
[00:27:27.26] Cathy: Thanks so much Ankush for having me.
[00:27:30.13] Ankush: Thanks for listening to the business series podcast, if you want to hear more, you can click on the “subscribe button” below, you can share this with someone else who can benefit, or you can “like” it and encourage others to listen. Also, it would be great if you left a comment below, as I love hearing from listeners, and I want to keep creating great content for you. Thanks for listening.