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Developing strong peer relationships

4 min read


Peter, an executive on the CEO’s team, hired me to work with him. Something wasn’t working in his relationships with his peers on the team, and he wanted to figure it out.

He felt ignored, dismissed and disrespected by his peers. They seemed to avoid Peter and often went around him to others in his organization for decisions that he should be making. So I interviewed the CEO and Peter’s peers to ask them about what they observed in the situation.

As it turns out the CEO felt Peter was smart and capable but could push too hard for his viewpoint, and he had given Peter this feedback on several occasions. Peter’s peers described a leader who would dismiss their ideas. He interrupted and talked too much, insistent that his solutions and ideas were the best.

Peter was not interacting well with his peers and they were responding in kind to his poor behavior. Peter didn’t feel respected. His peers eventually got tired of his insistence that he always had the right answers and started working around him instead of with him. Interestingly, Peter’s peers didn’t feel respected by Peter.

All the while, the CEO was watching and doing damage control while evaluating the impact Peter had on the team and the organization. Realizing that his behavior could eventually be detrimental to the organization and his career, Peter was motivated to change. He decided to focus our work together on improving his relationships with his peers. We began with a plan for him to recognize the triggers and reduce the pushiness that was not serving him or the team. Peter also saw the imperative to repair the damaged relationships he had created with his peers.

Beginning to heal those relationships

Relationships with your peers may be as important as those with your boss; in fact, some argue that they are THE most important relationships you can have in your organization. Peter recognized this, and the things that worked for him to begin to heal those damaged relationships may also work for you.

  • Stay open to new ideas: When you kill an idea by dismissing it or trying to speak over your peers with your views, your actions can come back to haunt you. Realize that your ideas are not the only ones that might work. See if you can find merit in ideas offered by others. Listen to understand your peers and their viewpoints. Be curious and ask questions. Not only will you learn something but you’ll help to keep creativity alive in the team.
  • Volunteer to assist: When there is something that needs to be done by a peer that you can help with, volunteer to assist. Or better yet, ask for help when you need it. This gives you a better chance to work with and understand other’s views and they’ll generally welcome the collaboration.
  • Find new ways to connect on a personal level: Work doesn’t have to be all about work. Seek out your peers and get to know them on a personal level. Invite them to share lunch with you and spend at least part of the time talking about your interests outside of work. Do a lot of listening. Ask them to help you figure something out. This small talk, often dismissed in organizations as “fluff”, actually builds bonds.

Peers can be very important to your efforts and your career. If the connections with them are sound, you’ll all reap the benefits. Peter was able to realize that those peer to peer connections were a key to getting things done within his organization as well as throughout the enterprise. The entire team found more ways to collaborate for the greater good. The CEO also became more willing to give Peter increasing responsibility and to designate him as a potential successor.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

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