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Relationship Excellence: 9 Tips that Prepare You to Excel

Although the fire and emergency service relies heavily on technology, people are still needed to plan, develop, operate and maintain it. As a result, they're an integral part of operational effectiveness.

If leaders are to maximize the likelihood of achieving their missions, day-to-day and in times of emergency, they must rely on both internal and external relationships they've developed over time—the quality of those relationships is mission-critical.

In addition to achieving a higher level of operational effectiveness, excelling at relationship management will increase leaders’ confidence that others will have their backs when needed—and it will improve their quality of life. This article, the first in a series of tips, will help you enhance operational and organizational effectiveness by increasing the quality of your internal and external relationships.

Preparing for Excellent Relationships

Just as you conduct a size-up when you arrive on scene, you don't jump immediately into action with relationship interactions. Instead, you take the time to assess, plan and prepare. You think ahead to the outcomes you want from the interaction and identify what it will take to achieve them. You also consider the purpose of the interaction: is it to educate, influence, inspire, recognize, ask or learn?

Perhaps most importantly, relationship excellence requires you to be aware of your own mindset—what’s going on inside of you, mentally and emotionally, that you must address so you can be most effective in interacting with others. If your mind is cluttered with the thousand and one things you need to do today or something's going on in your life that's distracting you from the interaction at hand, your head can't be in the game.

The nine tips below will help you prepare to make the most of any given interaction.

1. Look for what you have in common with others rather than how you are different. Even small, personal similarities accelerate the feeling of connection and perception of common interests.

2. Put a given relationship in context quickly and accurately by asking yourself two questions, and answering them realistically and truthfully:

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen to this relationship if I do (or don’t do) this? 
  • Can I live with that outcome?

3. Focus on the things you can control or influence greatly, not on the things you can't control. The only person you can control is yourself, so concentrate on your own choices, mindset, emotions and behaviors.

4. Develop and communicate clearly a common goal or big picture, ideally with the other stakeholders. Use it as your touchstone for decisions, behaviors and actions.

5. Begin with the desired end in mind and work backwards to determine how to achieve that result. Conduct a reality check after you have a clear picture of the outcome so you don’t limit the relationship unnecessarily.

6. Prioritize your relationships by conducting a relationship triage, using your agency’s mission or goals as the desired outcome. Spend the most time and effort cultivating your critical and very important relationships.

7. Set the boundaries within which you are willing and able to interact with others by establishing minimum and maximum expectations about outcomes or behaviors.

8. Focus on outcomes important to the other person, not on your activities, tasks or methodologies.

9. Increase the likelihood that people will accept a decision or outcome, even if they don’t like it, by ensuring your decisions and processes are procedurally fair, that is,  transparent, free of bias and providing a meaningful opportunity for input by stakeholders.

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