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Are Your Sideways Relationships Making You Miserable?

By Sheila Campbell

“I only told creative about a million times that the client hates yellow. So why is this POS yellow? Screaming yellow. Fluorescent yellow. Banana yellow. I am so…well, you know.”

 “Why is this AE standing over me when I told her three days ago that she’d have the work on Tuesday. Today is Monday. What is it about ‘Tuesday’ that she can’t understand?”

“It’s time for the client call, but I haven’t got the estimate yet. Arrggghhhh.”

 “We always do billing today. So why are three account people out of the office? They’re gonna make the billing late, and it all comes down on my head. The same thing happened last month.”

You can feel the frustration dripping off all these comments. I’ve been in similar situations. You have too. Sooner or later, somebody else in the agency lets us down. 

And the most maddening thing of all is that we can’t MAKE them do things the way we want. They don’t even report to us. And if we escalate up to their bosses…then the next time it’s going to be even worse.

It’s a dilemma we all face: how to motivate people -- people who don’t report to us -- to do the right thing. I read once that the greatest source of executive stress is that other people let you down. You can’t control other people. 

But, we can change the whole dynamic with people we work with. One way is to memorize three short sentences and use them often. Warning: they’re counter-intuitive. But they work.

“I’m sorry.”

Too often we think that if we apologize, it makes us look weak. But actually, it makes you likeable. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way toward getting people more willing to work with you. It expresses that you understand the pressures they’re going through, and that you don’t want to add to that. 

“I was wrong.”

Yeah, it’s really hard to admit we were wrong. But if you want your colleagues to trust you, own up when it was your mistake. Even if it was just partly your mistake. Almost every bad situation comes from a multitude of misunderstandings. 

A couple of notes about these two sentences: 

1) They have to be sincere.

2) There is a gender difference here around saying, “Sorry.” So avoid the habit of saying, “Sorry,” when there’s nothing to be sorry about.

3) If you find yourself saying them constantly, check your own performance. Are you the one causing problems for other people?

And finally….

“How can I help?”

We’re all too busy. But when you ask how you can make somebody’s day a little easier, you get a lot of credit. And there’s a thing in human psychology that makes us eager to reciprocate, even when someone does a tiny favor. 

You’ll learn lots more ways to improve your relationships with colleagues at my upcoming webinar with the 4As, Managing Up and Sideways: How to Work with People Who Don’t Report to You, on March 1. 

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