The Relationship Algorithm

When you are leading and not just managing people, you will need to have a good relationship with them. Although this view is controversial, I have found it much easier to motivate people, sell unpopular decisions or coach and train employees, when I had made the effort to build relationships with them. And since it’s all about software developers, there’s an algorithm for that.The relationship building algorithm contains 8 aspects:

  • Rapport
  • Encouragement
  • Listening
  • Added Value
  • Time
  • Interest
  • Orientation
  • Nurturing


Rapport-building is the first pillar and the foundation for all other aspects. If you fail to build rapport with another person, all other efforts will not work. Building rapport mostly comes down to body language and facial expression. If you hold short eye contact, have a cold and distanced look on your face and do not make any gestures, you will be unlikely to build rapport. If you greet people with enthusiasm and have a positive and welcoming attitude towards them, you are more likely to succeed.


Of course it is important that people know where they stand. They should not be delusional about their current abilities and talents, because this leads to entitlement and low ambition. But when people do not believe in themselves, they will not reach their potential. Your job as a manager is to encourage them so that they feel positive about themselves and their abilities and opportunities. Encouragement is not about the task. It is about the person.


Most people like talking about themselves or their interests. Being a good listener is necessary to building relationships. Talking about yourself and your goals or problems all the time will not make the other person like you. But listening is not just being silent, while the other person talks. You have to engage in listening by stating open questions, paraphrasing and showing interest and understanding. Just recently an employee finished very demanding project. After he returned from weeks of overtime at the customer’s site, I took the time and just listened to him for a while. He was eager to tell me about how it went. Although the whole conversation just lasted 20 minutes, I’m sure that without my listening, he would feel underappreciated for his effort.

Added Value

Each relationship is based on the economic principle of value. If you do not add value to other people, they will not be willing to keep a relationship with you. This value can be very little like treating the other person with respect or making the other person laugh. Or it can be providing opportunities for growth or learning. Recently I sent a link to a YouTube-channel about stock-investing to a colleague who is interested in the stock market, gave a book about management to an employee who would like to become a manager and recommended a Netflix series to somebody who has a hard time looking for movies and TV series that entertain him. It can be little things but they have to be repeated over and over again.


To build relationships you have to spend time with people. But since in a work environment time is always short, you have to plan spending time with people. You can make dinner or after work appointments, schedule coaching sessions or engage in the coffee chat. The point is it will not happen accidentally. You have to make it intentionally.


“People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a famous leadership quote which has been attributed to several well-known leaders or leadership experts. It means that you should show concern and interest in the people you are leading. If you don’t care about them, they will not care about you.


The default mode of employment is the 9-5 attitude. In order to motivate people to a higher degree of commitment, you will need to give them a positive vision about the future. And this vision will need to include a positive vision about themselves. They have to know what’s “in it for them” and you have to show them the way to reach it. Counterintuitively, this principle is not only applicable to hierarchical relationships but also among peers.


You have reached the highest level of relationship building, when you can initiate growth and development within the other person. If the person becomes better because he or she knows you, you name yourself a successful people developer. Coaching, mentoring, counseling, training and giving feedback (which are all different activities) should be part of your daily schedule.

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