10 Management Tips That Double as Relationship Advice

February 14, 2018

12:45 pm

Being a good manager means understanding  your employees’ perspectives. It means respecting their needs and their boundaries. It means gently pushing them towards being the best they can be. And if all that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s also the emotionally intelligent bedrock that composes the foundation any healthy romantic relationship, too. Turns out there’s a lot of overlap.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: There’s definitely a difference between the two. You’re not going to be buying flowers and chocolate for a work colleague or notifying a spouse that they’re not meeting their quarterly goals — both of those decisions will go very poorly for you. But when it comes to the underlying respect and humanity you’ll need to master, cross-applications abound. Here are the top ten management tips.

Be Ready Before You Even Start

People who really want to be in a relationship face a Catch-22 situation: In order to be dating material, they need to have an interesting life that proves they aren’t focused on just having a relationship. They need to have hobbies and interests so that they can build up an understanding of their own life. Someone who’s desperate for a relationship will just drive away their options.

In a similar way, a manager needs to have an understanding of their circumstances — the business, the industry — that goes beyond just a managerial checklist. If you’re just starting out as a manager, take the time to get a big-picture understanding before the first day in your new role.

Set the Tone Early

All that prep work will help you out once you do start managing. If you can establish an accurate picture of how you’ll approach the job within the first few days, all the employees under you will be able to leap right into their jobs secure in the knowledge that you’re on the same page. Fail to set the right tone, and you’ll instead be waiting on a time bomb of employees who will eventually realize they didn’t quite understand what you’re looking for.

Being in a relationship works in a similar way: If you don’t explain that you expect your significant other to wash their own dishes or that you hate eating out more than twice a week, you’ll eventually need to both explain the problem and why you didn’t mention it for three months.

Be Interested

Employees can sniff out when their manager is blowing them off. If you want to build trust, that managerial checklist won’t be as handy as sitting down and listening to what your subordinate has to say. The best way to build a repartee is to find out what interests your employee indulges in after clocking out for the day: Are they a stand-up comedian? Do they run an art blog? Are they really into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

The applications for relationships are obvious here: If you don’t find your significant other interesting enough to hang out with evening after evening, you’ve got a problem.

Let Mistakes Slide

This advice comes from writer Nicole Cliffe, who detailed it pretty comprehensively in a Twitter thread. In short, it’s a recommendation to avoid identifying who’s at fault when someone you’re managing messes up. The rationale: The person at fault likely knows that they’re to blame, and can get defensive about it pretty fast. If the manager decides to turn the mistake into a teaching moment, they’re going with the wrong instinct, since the employee will be way ahead of them. Instead, Cliffe argues, a good manager should move on to what they want out of their employee.

“So instead, you say ‘well, what matters is where we go from here. I think if you do [x big ask] we should be able to get this sorted,'” Cliffe tweets.

Avoiding a focus on mistakes doesn’t hurt anything, and instead strengthens your relationships.

Be Honest

Everyone hates a bloviating boss who is somehow faultless and never to blame. You might let mistakes slide with your employees, but you should always own up to the mistakes you’ve made. Same goes for relationships. And that starts with being honest with yourself. I know, you didn’t expect a management tips listicle to get this deep. Buckle up.

Get to Know Them

Yes, this tip is seperate from the “be interested” one. It’s not enough to learn about your employees’ hobbies; you should also learn what drives their personality. Are they introverted or extroverted? Big picture people or detail-oriented? People pleasers or data lovers? Do they love thinking before they speak or thinking so much they don’t speak at all? There’s no wrong answer here, but if you don’t ask these questions, you might wind up applying the wrong managing techniques.

Also called “situational leadership,” this management style highlights the fact that every employee has different needs and should be managed in a different way.

Don’t Use “It’s the Way I Am” as an Excuse

Some managers get too blunt under pressure, barking orders. The worst managers have a ready excuse for this type of behavior — it’s “just their style” — and can point to plenty of hard-nosed role models in tech to justify themselves. But that doesn’t make them right.

“One of the worst habits a leader can have is excusing his behavior with claims like, ‘That’s just the way I am!,'” the Harvard Business Review explained to TIME. “Stop clinging to bad behaviors because you believe they are essential to who you are. Instead of insisting that you can’t change, think about how these behaviors may be impeding the success of those around you. Don’t think of these behaviors as character traits, but as possibilities for improvement.”

Be an Active Listener

Active listening is the most actionable way to build relationships. According to some research, we only remember somewhere between 25 percent to 50 percent of what we hear. Practice active listening by paying attention, offering non-verbal confirmation that you’re listening, and — most importantly — offering feedback that demonstrates you’ve been keeping up with the conversation.

Build a Strong EQ

Emotional intelligence, or emotion quotient, is like IQ, but vastly underrated by a culture focused on valuing logic above emotion.

But the data doesn’t lie: 90 percent of top performers have a high EQ, one study has found. Better yet, those with a high emotional intelligence make $29,000 more than those without, on average. And managers in particular need to focus on building their EQ in order to better manage those under them.

Be Available

As a manager, you should keep your metaphorical office door open — and maybe your literal one, too. By letting your subordinates know you’ll take five minutes out of your day to listen to what they have to say, you’ll foster a healthy culture of mutual respect and teamwork. And good news for your productivity: Most of your team will likely never need to check in with you. Just the knowledge that they could will do wonders.

The same is true for relationships: Try to be more available to connect with your significant other, and you’ll likely deepen your relationship.

Keep Your Promises

This one’s common sense: Break a promise and you’ll need a reasonable explanation or you’ll see an erosion of trust that might be impossible to get back.

I’d be remiss not to remind you again that a few additional management tips are actually the opposite of what a good relationship should be. If you’re someone’s boss, you should treat them differently than if you’re their friend. But if you’re looking for a healthy, functioning relationship in either scenario, keeping these management tips in the back of your mind can’t hurt.

Are you a remote manager? Read about how to build a remote team here on TechCo

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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