Tell us how you manage workplace relationships?

This is a big question. It's directly related to how you work, and how you fit in the workplace.

The Fit questions are all important. There's been a major shift in employer focus to the fitting of employees in their workplace culture. That's been caused partly by better employment science, and partly by a rash of employee lawsuits, where workplace clashes have been generating a lot of work for courts and costing employers a lot of money.

Google has recently changed its hiring practices specifically to get good fits between employees and their culture. They've also changed their interview questions. A Fit question can be something like Do you own a dog?

The relationships question is a much more direct version of the Fit questions. It's particularly relevant in organizations where people are in more or less constant pressure environments. Clashes do and will happen, but some people are natural clash makers.

The question will also probably be asked where there have been prior issues with employers, or the applicant has left a job because of relationship problems. Employers are naturally wary of hiring anyone where there's an obvious risk of difficulties because of a prior record of workplace problems.

This can be a very uncomfortable question for applicants, if they've been in that situation, but it's manageable.

Relationships, defined

The working relationship is based on interactions with a lot of people at all levels. This relationship is:

  • Personal
  • Professional
  • Functional
  • Organizational

If you're advising a colleague about a business issue, you're relating to that person on all four levels. It's what you're paid to do. So the employer has a vested interest in that relationship you have with that colleague.

If, for example:

Personal

You don't like the person, you don't get on with them, so your information is pretty minimal. What's the value of your advice? Less than it would be, if you got along with that person.

Professional

You may have professional disagreements, and the two of you may be talking in direct opposition to each other. The benefit to the employer of two employees who can't solve a problem and prefer to stick to their own opinions is zero. This can be a very serious relationship problem, and management has to drop everything and sort it out.

Functional

The lack of relationship, where people are in opposition to each other, means functional business grinds to a halt. This costs time, at the very least. That alone can create problems, if projects or routine business don't move forward because of relationship issues.

Organizational

A relationship blockage can prevent anything from an email being sent to an order being filled. It can derail contracts, and make other parts of the organization dysfunctional. At executive level, it can cause endless re-workings of the same job. That's incredibly expensive, and utterly useless to the employer.

So, when answering the relationships question, you must make it clear that you understand the importance of good working relationships.

You need to make the following points:

  1. You recognize the importance of workplace relationships to the organization in terms of efficiency and productivity.
  2. You make a real effort to ensure you maintain good working relationships with everyone you work with.
  3. You always make a point of being positive, and never negative, towards other staff.
  4. You're aware of the correct way to deal with any disputes or grievances, and you stick to that process.
  5. You also abide by all relevant laws, like anti discrimination and equal employment rules, as part of your relationship management.

These are the basics. Additional Fit questions may explore any or all of these issues, so you should make sure you have them covered, and understand clearly what's involved in these 5 points.

Note: Issues regarding working in a team are also closely linked to workplace relationships. Check out our other piece about how you work in a team, for additional information.

Additional relationship questions

You can find yourself being asked about various workplace situations which equate to relationship questions.

These can be about on the job differences of opinion, personal clashes, personal relationships on the job, or other slightly oblique versions of the relationships questions where the real question is camouflaged.

But they're still about relationship issues.

Anything and everything to do with working with other people is effectively a relationship question.

In all cases, make sure that your answer is consistent with the 5 points above.

The DON'TS in relationship questions

  • Don't say anything which suggests you'll engage in any kind of personal dispute on the job.
  • Don't say anything which indicates you'll bypass or ignore workplace rules.
  • Don't suggest you consider relationship issues to be unimportant.
  • Don't say anything at all which indicates lack of awareness of equal employment and anti discrimination rules and laws.
  • Don't give answers which set yourself up as judge jury and executioner in a theoretical question about a clash between other people. Remain impartial, and always refer to guidelines. If the question is about other people, all the things about relationships still apply, and your answer is supposed to show you know that.
  • Don't answer evasively any question about relationships.

Job applicants considerations regarding relationship questions

Some employers are lousy relationship managers themselves.

That's a major part of the big problems in the workplace today.

These answers relate to the major issues in relationship questions, according to laws around the world, and management best practice.

These issues relate directly to employee rights, and have caused a virtual revolution in employment practices and laws in the last decade or so.

The interviewers should understand every point you make with the answers given here.

Those answers mean, in effect:

  • Play by the rules
  • Don't create problems
  • Follow the laws and guidelines
  • Be a facilitator, not an obstacle

Make sure you answer all relationship questions consistently.

Always have the same basic approach to each situation.

Many interviewees get lost in the variations on this question, and don't seem to realize they're being asked about workplace relationships with the variants.

If you know a relationship question when you hear one or see one, you'll be OK.