Michael Tanner of Credible Leaders joined me in the Project Management Club on Clubhouse to discuss how to build successful relationships at work. These notes from the conversation share the key takeaways.


Michael shared five points on how to build influential relationships:

1) Be decisive

2) Be intentional

3) Be curious

4) Be vulnerable

5) Be consistent

We’re not trying to be covert in the relationship-building – we can’t build a relationship with someone without them knowing it, so you can explain that’s what you want. 

Let’s look at those in a bit more detail.

1) Be decisive

You have to be decisive, Michael said. You have to decide that relationships are important to your personal, project and business success. You have to believe it’s important.

This is the first thing to focus on because we all know good relationships are difficult to build and maintain. So to put the effort in, you have to believe it’s something you want to do. 

2) Be intentional

Next, it’s important to be intentional about the effort you put into relationships.

Relationships don’t just happen. The meetings we attend have a project-specific agenda. We might believe that by spending time together in meetings, that you are building relationships – but that isn’t really true. You have got to do some intentional activities, like passing by their desk and talk with them person to person. Or schedule a lunch or a coffee chat together.

A project status meeting is not a relationship building meeting. Plan the activity and it’s got to fall outside of your normal project management activity.

Michael Tanner quote

3) Be curious

We ask a lot of questions in meetings and we feel like we are being curious, Michael said. But you need to be genuinely curious about that person. Not about their tasks or the work they are doing, because that is being curious about the project.

Instead, get to know them as a person by asking questions: Tell me about your family, where did you grow up? And so on. 

How do you balance asking questions without asking the ‘wrong’ questions that might make them uncomfortable?

Start slow, and ask questions that don’t force people into being vulnerable beyond what they are willing to share. Take your cues from the person answering. Model for them the level of curiosity that is slightly beyond where they are, providing information about your own situation and what you are prepared to share.

Walk the balance and be careful not to push them beyond. 

How do you remember all the information?

Elizabeth shared a tip to take notes to help you record information like places they have gone on holiday or children’s names. Michael said this demonstrates it’s important enough to you to write it down. It conveys that is important to you. 

4) Be vulnerable

Be willing to be vulnerable with your team members, Michael said, drawing the parallel between being vulnerable and being trustworthy. Expose your weaknesses and fears to the team or an individual and be willing to do that as a leader, because if you don’t your colleagues will struggle to relate to you. If they can’t relate to you or trust you as a leader, that will make building a relationship difficult.

Being vulnerable is a way of showing strength. We have to be comfortable and willing that our team members may be vulnerable to you too – you have to be willing to listen. 

5) Be consistent

Be consistent and own the building of this relationship, Michael said. A good, influential relationship doesn’t happen overnight and doesn’t happen with a single event. We have to do the things over time, consistently, to build the relationships. The relationship will be built slowly, piece by piece over time.

Like trust an influential relationship takes a while to build and can be torn down very quickly.

When you’re in any kind of leadership role, Michael said, whether it’s defined by an org chart or the roles and responsibilities of a project, there is an artificial barrier between you and the other team members that will prevent them from building a relationship with you. They may struggle to step over the barrier, so as a leader you have to take ownership for building the relationship.

Sharing articles/podcasts and so on: how do you make this not seem fake?

Michael said that where you are adding value to them and serving them, it shows you mean something to them and that you’ve listened and are on the look out for things that would serve them.

How do you build relationships ‘up’ the organization, with senior leaders.

Michael said that in a group setting with senior execs in the room, you are the owner of the project in those meetings – it’s not necessarily the best time for relationship building. 

Instead, it’s difficult but remember it’s an artificial barrier. Any leader, at any level, Michael said, wants a relationship with their team member. They welcome someone doing the work to build a relationship with them. 

Look for small moments like passing in the corridor or at the coffee machine, and use the same techniques (without digging too deeply into their lives!), outside of the context of a project meeting.

Elizabeth: When you have a relationship with execs, you have fewer nerves and can present better. 

Michael: As an exec, when I have a relationship with someone, I listen better. You’re a bit more trusting, you recognize that the project manager is owning the project. There are a lot of dynamics that benefit from having those relationships. 

Execs are humans just like you. Don’t let an org chart prevent you building a relationship with them. 

Community shares

Robert Valle @valle00r How have things changed as a result of the pandemic and working remotely?

Michael: All of the steps are applicable but we have to be much more creative than we had to be before. You can’t swing by someone’s desk once a day at the moment. Be more intentional and creative. For instance, Michael believes that video conferencing is a good way to build relationships because you can see faces and reactions. Build fun into it as well. Being camera-ready is an issue for some people. 

Paramjit Pooni @pkpooni How do you find the time to be intentional and fit in this work to build relationships?

Michael: If you’re struggling to find the time to be intentional with the relationship building, you are not alone! Live by your calendar. Put a small block of time on your calendar weekly to think of someone to appreciate and recognise. 

Make the time to meet with your team members. The meeting can be about the project, status and so on, but allow some amount of time in the meeting (at the beginning, preferably) for those curiosity questions. Meet them individually 

Anika Chotai @iamanikakay Quick conversations with people help them respond better to you when you are asking them at work. Do you have book recommendations? 

Michael: The Leadership Challenge, and Extreme Ownership

Elizabeth: The Accidental Leader.

Any tips for meeting my team for the first time?

Michael: Acknowledge the awkwardness of meeting for the first time. That will help the team relax and move past it. 

Elizabeth: Have your manager introduce you to the team – see the tips from Professor Bernardo Tirado last week!


Follow us on Clubhouse: @elizabethharrin and @mtanner

Follow us on Instagram: @elizabeth.harrin and @michaeltanner42

Find out more about Michael at CredibleLeaders.com .

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