Ally or Adversary? 5 Actions that Destroy Professional Relationships

(Guest Author Morag Barrett, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

For Part 1 (5 Actions the Build Professional Relationships), click here

Remember, if relationships matter, they matter even more at work.

Your success depends on the quality of your professional relationships.

Those people without whom your success would be compromised; the professional connections that you reach out to when you have a question or are unsure of what action to take; winning relationships that empower you to achieve outstanding results together; the “I-couldn’t-get-my-job-done-without-you” relationships. It is also about those difficult and challenging relationships that drain your energy, that create roadblocks and impact your ability to deliver the goals and results expected of you, the “I-get-my-job-done-in-spite-of-you” relationships.

Improving the quality of our professional relationships at work is not rocket science, but it may as well be. We’re all so busy keeping our heads down and eyes on the prize that we can forget to look up and connect with those around us.

Here are five Don’t’s that will help ensure you create career allies and not career adversaries:

DON’T: Focus only on what you can get.

If you only contact your critical stakeholder when you need something, you’ll very quickly find that your ‘work-spouse’ might be washing their hair and unavailable! An Ally relationship is about ‘give and take’. Be proactive in offering your expertise, and ensure that reciprocity is part of your relationship.

DON’T: Stick with the usual suspects.

Many leaders put a lot of energy in cultivating relationships with those with the right title and seniority (the vertical relationships) but spend less care and attention on horizontal relationships across their business. If you’re focused only on the ‘right’ connections, your style will come across as inauthentic. I’ve worked with many leaders whose relationships have been skewed in one direction (usually up) and do not include representation from across the organization.

DON’T: Focus on only one relationship.

It’s easy to focus on your work-spouse or Ally at the exclusion of your other professional relationships. After all, they ‘get’ you; you have fun together, and they challenge and encourage you to be the best you can. However, by limiting your attention on one person, you may run the risk of the relationship being misinterpreted and having yourself and your ‘work-spouse’ become the focus of gossip and speculation. It’s far better to have more than one Ally and cultivate a ‘work-family.’

DON’T: Multi-task and forget to be present.

The most common frustration I hear about relationship-building involves multitasking. We’re all guilty of it: checking email while we’re on the phone, not actively listening during a conversation, looking through our FacebMultitaskingook or LinkedIn feeds while we’re grabbing a coffee with a colleague. These all send the clear message “You are not important.” If you want to avoid any possibility of sending this message, switch off the computer screen, turn away from the distractions, or if necessary, signal the fact that you are in the middle of something and schedule time when you can focus. Email can wait, people can’t.

DON’T: Cross the line.

The key to a successful and professional Ally relationship is that it is platonic and professional. In Cultivate, I share four conversational strategies for clarifying ‘the rules of engagement,’ as I’ve found that most relationships flounder when expectations aren’t clearly articulated. If you ‘cross a line’ or feel that someone else has crossed a line with you, you need to have the courage to discuss it, and to get the relationship back on track before you run the risk of it derailing irreparably.

Bringing it all together

It’s not what you do that is the sole driver of your career success — it’s how you do it, and perhaps most importantly of all, who you do it with.

Through good times and bad, your Ally will have your back. These relationships will stand the test of time even if one of you moves to a new role or company.

Whether you are the CEO of a major organization, starting out in your career, a people manager or a technical leader, cultivating winning relationships is a game changer.

Remember: Business is personal and relationships do matter.

Morag-2Morag Barrett is a sought out speaker and author of the best-selling book Cultivate.The Power of Winning Relationships. As the founder and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international leadership development company she has worked with more than 3,000 leaders from more than 20 countries. Morag writes for the American Management Association, and Learn more at

Twitter: @skyemorag

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