Building Effective Relationships in Higher Education

Veronica Martin-Stok, 4 min read

We all know that effective communication with team members, clients, partners, and other stakeholders is essential to building strong and lasting business relationships. I have always worked hard to foster positive relationships with my work colleagues, firstly because of my drive to be professional, but also because it makes me happy to deal with people in this way.

In this article, I share some tips from my 20 years of experience in the higher education industry, about how to intentionally develop great relationships with a range of stakeholders, for a much more productive and enjoyable work experience.

Veronica Martin-Stok

Happiness and Harmony as a Starting Point

Even though we can’t always be 100% cheerful all the time, feeling a degree of joy, satisfaction and fulfilment from your work helps you to bring a professional approach, and this component is critical to our work relationships.

I’ve worked my way up in the higher education arena, from being a class scheduling officer to becoming a manager in examinations and scheduling teams. During this time I have discovered how much more can be achieved when working in a harmonious environment.

Now, this doesn’t mean we all need to agree on everything all of the time. But we must be clear on what the ultimate goals for the business are, and take the necessary steps to collaborate positively and productively to achieve these goals.

Importance of Empathy

In higher education, and particularly in a scheduling setting, understanding our stakeholders is extremely important to ensure that the collective goals are achieved. As the name suggests, our stakeholders have a stake in what we do, therefore we need their input and support. Though we also must realise, they have their own priorities so if they don’t respond to a query, we shouldn’t take it to heart.

An illustration of how to foster good relationships is below. It involves ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ and building empathy into the situation.

Let’s say you have requested your timetable data well in advance from a stakeholder, and it’s been returned past the due date. Ask yourself why this might be, and most importantly work out what you could do next time to ensure it doesn’t happen again. For instance, a phone call follow-up may assist, rather than email reminders. Or is there room to extend the deadline to help?

By demonstrating a cooperative and understanding attitude, your stakeholders are more likely to see you as a team player who is fair and perceptive.

Communication is Key

It is important to always communicate to the best of your abilities – whether you’re dealing with stakeholders in person, on the phone or via email. To get the right result think about applying the Seven Cs of Communication.

  1. Be clear – what is the message that you are trying to send across
  2. Be concise – keep your message simple.
  3. Be concrete – provide a reasonable amount of detail.
  4. Be correct – check for accuracy and grammar.
  5. Be coherent – think of consistency, logic, and the order of your message.
  6. Be complete – ensure you have included all the information the recipient needs.
  7. Be courteous – display good manners and respect.

I often think of the quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Tips for Building Strong Relationships

  1. Understand your stakeholders. They all have a stake in the timetable process and therefore you need their input and collaboration.
  2. Be kind and foster a harmonious environment. This will contribute to a positive relationship and increase optimism. You will also be projecting a good example and it will encourage your stakeholders to reciprocate.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathy will assist you to resolve conflicts.
  4. Listening is a core aspect. Look into what you can do in the future by learning from past experiences. If something did not work well, what can you do to improve the situation in the future?
  5. Be collaborative. This means, being cooperative, fair, focused, honest, reliable, and organised.
  6. Beware of the Seven Cs of Communication to allow your relationships to flourish.
  7. Work on growing your relationships and if there is an issue, raise it in a positive and diplomatic manner with the ultimate goal to resolve it. Do not take things personally and remember that calmness is a superpower!

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