Managing Employee Relationships: Honor and Reciprocity

Vicki Noel

What are the barriers to doing this?

Position itself is inherent as a barrier.  It is difficult to have true, authentic reciprocity among people in different positions, with different skills and experiences, and different perceptions of their power.  We form perceptions about leadership throughout our lives – from parents, teachers, coaches, politicians and previous supervisors.  Perceptions of leadership are based on one’s experiences with these various influences. If you “grew up” with a leader that operated with a “my way or the highway” style, or if you have worked with leaders in the past that belittled your ideas or took credit for them, you are certainly less likely to share your ideas someone in leadership.

Why is it important to do anyway?

In our organization, the best idea is boss.  And usually, the “boss” isn’t the person with the best idea!  To be a high functioning organization, leaders must find a way to effectively share and receive information so that the best decisions are made.  Reciprocity is mutual dependence, action, or influence; mutual exchange of privileges.  People in a trusting relationship will experience mutual exchange…give and take of ideas, sharing and support and caring for each other’s contributions.  This effective exchange is critical for not only you as a leader to make the best decisions with good information, but also for your team to do the best work they possibly can for your customer.

How can you do it?

  1. Genuinely acknowledge everyone’s value.  It is one thing to say you want reciprocity, and quite another to do what is necessary to achieve it.  Talk is cheap.  You must demonstrate through your behavior that you have heard your colleagues’ ideas and that you do something with the information…even if it is to say “no” to a suggestion with an explanation.
  2. Engage others in a supportive exchange of ideas.  In a supportive environment, no one gets in trouble or resented for poking holes in an idea.  In fact innovation requires others to challenge the status quo.  That takes real courage for someone in your areas of responsibility. Encourage it and put your feelings in check as the process or policy being challenged may be one you created.
  3. Be willing to be vulnerable.  For mutual trust to develop, you as the leader must be willing to take the leap first.  You have the most perceived power, access and control over resources…you need to initiate the exchange of ideas.  Acknowledge that you don’t have all of the answers and you need their help.  As mentioned above, be willing to humbly take the “licks” as someone may suggest that your idea or process is not working.  It helps others learn that it is OK to make mistakes when their leader demonstrates grace when wrong.

What are some of the processes you use to engage others in a supportive exchange of ideas?

Log on and join the conversation at .  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

3 Responses to “Managing Employee Relationships: Honor and Reciprocity”

Kendall L. Stewart August 26th, 2013 at 9:59 am

A good number of people simply have not learned how to disagree agreeably. They complain. They whine. They speak about perceptions and anecdotes instead of data. They focus on problems instead of solutions. They take no personal responsibilities for the issues they bring forward, but blame others instead. They offer simplistic pronouncements instead of thoughtful options. Leaders must find ways to respond to such irresponsible immaturity without becoming defensive. This is hard. But within such unskilled communication and malevolent intent, an important message sometime lurks. We need to listen hard for it.

Exactly Kendall. As much as this type of feedback is difficult to listen to, my coping strategy is to repeat “there’s always a nugget of truth” somewhere in this poorly wrapped message. And if we can figure out how to listen even harder and cut through the negative noise, there is almost always valuable feedback to be gained.

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