Business Magazine

Mapping Relationships at Work

Posted on the 24 February 2014 by Candacemoody @candacemoody

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” (Arab proverb)

In a previous post, I wrote about factors that affect relationships at work. When you understand where people stand and how they think, you may be able to form more productive relationships. It’s not necessarily about being liked and having friends; it’s about having cordial relationships based on respect. Those are the kind of relationships that help you get things done.

Here’s a way to think about relationships and map them based on Enlightened Office Politics by Michael and Deborah Dobson.

There are two factors that influence how well you’ll work with someone: how much you have in common (personally or by sharing common goals) and the strength of your feelings for each other. You’ll base these feelings, in part, on how much you like and trust each other and how your perceived alliances conflict or align. Dobson and Dobson map these factors on a Harvard grid:


Adapted from Enlightened Office Politics by Michael and Deborah Dobson.

On a scale of Low to High, Interests can be Conflicting, Compatible, or Shared. Conflicting interests mean that you and the other person will be working against each other. Usually this occurs when competing for scarce resources (you both want to move into the same corner office, for example.) Your interests are Compatible of you are working toward the same goal, but perhaps for different reasons. I may want to see a project go forward because I’m in line for a promotion to lead it; you may want the same project to go forward because you’ll get a much-needed upgrade to your staff’s reporting software. Our interests are shared if we want the same things because we agree on substance – we want it for the same reasons.

Relationships are based on trust (in someone’s integrity or competence), personal like or dislike, and faction alliances that may supersede personal qualities (“never trust anyone from sales,” for example.)

Back to the grid:

  • Low Common Interest; Low Relationship: Enemies. These are toxic relationships that can poison projects and create discord.
  • Low Common Interest; High Relationship: Opponents. You aren’t working toward the same goals, but you like and trust each other enough to play fair, communicate and not hold it against the other when you don’t win.
  • High Common Interest; Low Relationship: Fellow Travelers. You are the proverbial “strange bedfellows;” you will work together, but not hang out together by choice.  You may describe these team members as “useful” but not as friends.
  • High Common Interest; High Relationship: Allies. These are your comrades in arms; the ones that champion your cause and have your back.  You like and trust each other and everyone knows it. You can’t survive without at least a few of these people, especially if you have enemies.

There may be some Neutrals on the team – people who don’t get in your way but don’t necessarily help you either.  It’s important to remember that they’re only neutral to you; they have enemies, allies and fellow travelers of their own, and you may find that as conditions shift, your position relative to them may change.

Now that you know – how do you deal with them?

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