Good Lord, is this a problem?
There I was wondering what this affliction was, this need to have x number of coffee meetings a week (where x is a number I am not prepared to declare to my boss), or a chat in the kitchen, a joke in the elevator, a heap of “what do you think?” conversations. In parallel I started researching affiliative behaviour. Why? – Good question. When I recently completed my Human Synergistic Life Styles Inventory (which is a lot less strange than it sounds), one of my most prominent behaviours, according to both my assessment and that of the others I enlisted in the 360 degree process, was affiliative behaviour. I high fived myself and did a chest bump against my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Yeah, big time affiliative man, alright. Now all I need to know is what in the heck it is.
Just relax, what you are is ok
What a relief. It turns out it’s generally a pretty good thing, particularly for a leader. At last, the green light, a shining endorsement for another cup of coffee and a chat. Hope the boss reads this.
Effective affiliate behaviour is a great asset in leadership. Like all behaviours, affiliative behaviour has its shining and its dull sides (mostly shining). Regardless, it is one of the hallmarks of a humanistic style, where management focuses on the needs and values of employees rather than viewing them as an economic asset. It is characterised by an authentic desire to bring people together to a common end. Affiliate leaders seek consensus and this naturally encourages collaborative behaviour. Psychology Today describes an affiliative leader like this:
“…when a decision needs to be made, you’re likely to bring your partner into the decision making process and ask his/her opinion before you decide. In fact, you may not stop with just your partner. You may bring family and friends into the discussion to get their input as well. In general, affiliative communicators prefer a more collaborative style of communication and tend to see direct challenges and open disagreements as aggressive, hostile, and often personal.” Psychology Today
Great stuff, although it brings to mind the number of times my wife says to me, frustrated “I don’t know, you make a decision for once”.
Let’s chat, I’d like to get to know you better
Affiliative leaders have a very strong sense of and commitment to relationships. Relationships are at the heart of their modus operandi. Their first thought is typically, if I am going to make this work, if I am going to deliver this goal, I am going to need a good relationship. So that’s where they start.
To an affiliative leader, a relationship is not just a tick box activity. I’ve known people who had more friends than you could poke a stick at. In fact, I had a work mate who seemed to have an ‘arm around the shoulder’ relationship with every second person we ran into and could share a laugh and a reminiscence with all of them. But it always left me wondering. How do you have a meaningful relationship with so many people? Surely having so many, the relationships become superficial. A meaningful relationship requires a genuine and authentic exchange and connection.
Affiliative leaders communicate well. They are open and honest and they listen to hear. They value relationships and people, and they openly praise and encourage.
Why be an affiliative leader when you could just be the bull that trashes the china shop? Surely that’s a lot more efficient. Efficient, yes – sustainable, no.
Affiliative leaders place high value on collaborative behaviours, and team work. They believe employees need to be not just satisfied but in engaged in their work and that this will lead to success, so they focus on people and how they’re feeling. They intuitively understand the value in employee engagement.
But could you be too nice for your own good?
So you’re wondering where the downside is? They sound like saints! Well, like most behaviours, all good things in moderation. Affiliative leaders can forgo a focus on the end result in lieu of their fascination and concern for how their employees are doing. We all know, sometimes a leader just has to lead, to make decisions, to take the team out of the trench, through the smoke and fire and on to victory. Sometimes their commitment to good relationships can stifle the more challenging decisions and actions required to drive productivity and performance.
Are you affiliative by nature? Ask yourself some of these questions:
- You’re in a group, in a meeting, at a party. Are you comfortable or are you in the corner feigning an interest in some hideous piece of art to avoid eye contact and a conversation?
- Does meeting new people make you uncomfortable, is it hard to get a conversation going, and do you question what you really have to contribute?
- If you had your choice, would you work in a small office by yourself and take your coffee breaks after work when everyone else has gone home?
Ok, ok you get the picture.
- Do you feel like a bit of good old fashioned force is the way to get the job done?
- I mean, if you have to deal with people you will, but you’d rather avoid it, right?
Now I have got you a little unsettled
So just admit it, now you’re taking a sneaky look around the office looking for a soft target, a new bestie. Below are some actions to consider if you think you could do with developing your affiliative behaviours.
- Set yourself an achievable target. Take a relationship at work and set about making it more meaningful and genuine by getting to know that person much better. Ask some questions. Everyone has something interesting to tell you.
- Communication skills are key to building effective relationships. We all need to practise. So do you. Not just listening, but talking, body language, self-awareness. What emotions are you projecting? Are you present in the conversation?
- If you want someone to open up to you, then it begins with you, not them. Relationships are all about trust. Step forward first and show you trust the other person and they will trust you and open up.
- Seek out opinions and respect them. Share ideas and celebrate the success of others.
- If you work in a large organisation then there are mountains of opportunities to stretch yourself. Say hello to someone in the elevator, in the kitchen, at the conclusion of a meeting – attend a social event.
- Join an organisation. Don’t join a book club with 6 people, 5 of whom are your best friends. Stretch yourself. Go it alone.
If you could view yourself on CCTV there would be a lot to learn. Observation is really important. Be aware of your own behaviour and then be conscious of how other people are reacting to you. You can make subtle adjustments to your behaviour to see if you can improve how you are relating to others. Should I smile more? – maybe don’t lead with a Dad joke – 400 Wikipedia facts in one breath is not holding their attention. You get where I am going.
Having said all of this, I can’t over emphasise the value in being you, in being authentic. There is a chance you are actually interesting and people want to know you as well. Let the real you Stand Up.
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