When was the last time you sat down with one of your direct reports and had a conversation about your working relationship?

How it was going.
What was working.
What was not working.
How you could support them.
How they could support you.

Was it last week?
At the last annual performance appraisal?
Can’t remember?
Never?

Conversations in organisations about tasks, projects, outcomes, progress, budgets, variations against budget, financials – in other words the WHAT components of business – abound.

And this is good. We’ve got to talk about this stuff otherwise nothing would ever get done.

But, if I was to be a fly on the wall in most organisations, conversations about working relationships and how they are fairing, would be far more scarce. Rare even.

And yet, relationships and feelings drive, well…pretty much everything!

– How well Mary in accounts trusts or respects Johnny in sales will have a huge impact on decisions, productivity and outcomes between these two departments.

– Whether I trust or respect my boss (or if I fear him or her) will have a monumental effect on whether I’m motivated, or go the extra mile in my job.

Add to the mix the fact that most of us are generally pretty unaware when we are tripping up, frustrating others or some how getting in our own way – like a massive proverbial lump under the carpet.

You have a boss. How does it feel when she sits down and talks about these topics, even periodically? Pretty good huh?

See here for the benefits of monthly one on ones – a great way to ensure these “HOW are we going conversations” get had.

You don’t have to go overboard, go all “touchy feely” and ask these types of questions ALL the time. But, have them you should.

Here are just a few questions you could start weaving into your conversation repertoire with direct reports.

  1. What do I currently do that really motivates you? What are the things I do or say that really help you to perform at your best?
  1. What about the opposite? Is there anything that, as your boss, I do that detracts from you performing at your best?
  1. Now it’s your turn to give them some feedback. Where is the working relationship working well from your perspective? What do they do that brasses you off? Is there anything in the way they work with you that annoys you – and conversely works really well?
  1. Reviewing the last month, what have been the highlights from both of our perspectives? What have been the wins? What have we learned as a result? Have there been moments or situations when we really worked well together? What was present or at play for this to happen? How can we shine a light on this and create opportunities for us to replicate this?

A bit like a marriage, if we only focus our attention on task-focussed communication, then sooner or later the cracks will start to show. As uncomfortable as it may be, I urge you to include some of these “how are we going?” questions into your conversational vocabulary with your direct reports.

Do it and tell me what happens as a result.