Building a strong rapport and a healthy partnership takes effort and intention, says Rhonda Scharf

Relationships matter: a partnership at work has a different level of connection than most of your colleagues. To be happy at work, you must have a healthy and positive relationship with your executive. Building a strong rapport can lead to more opportunities, better communication, and a supportive work environment. However, that doesn’t always happen; it always takes effort and intention.

I supported Mr. Donnelly many years ago. He was an older man with a strong parenting style of management. He treated me like his daughter instead of his partner. While it wasn’t unhealthy, it wasn’t a partnership. He never asked me for my opinions, didn’t share the secret details of what was happening, and kept me at arm’s length.

And I didn’t love the job. I didn’t feel valued and valuable. I was good at what I did and enjoyed the tasks of being a senior EA. I didn’t love the partnership and was envious when I heard other EAs bragging about what they and their executive did.

A healthy employer-employee relationship plays a crucial role in your overall career success. Not only does it create a positive work environment, but it also opens doors for growth and personal development. When you have a healthy relationship with your executive, you are more likely to feel supported and empowered, which naturally leads to increased job satisfaction and motivation.

Building that partnership takes effort on both sides. Mr. Donnelly wasn’t willing, and I didn’t know how to create it from my side.

I do now.


Honesty is about trust and not rules. Be honest when you make a mistake, see ways to be more effective and efficient, and be honest with your word. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t avoid being honest because you are afraid to have a difficult conversation.

But honesty doesn’t mean absolute truth, either. There is a line we mustn’t cross (and it is different with every relationship). I won’t run to my executives to let them know what others are doing (such as tattling). I may not share everything happening in my personal life with my executive, especially if it isn’t relevant. You don’t want to hear about your executive’s marital woes any more than they want to hear about yours! And giving critical feedback, while honest, isn’t always necessary.

If my executive asks me how I felt about a board meeting and I felt that it was a disaster, I won’t use those words, but I will tell them that I thought a few things got out of control quickly or that perhaps next time we could think about using a timekeeper.

Being honest does mean that I won’t ever lie. I can decide how I want to present a message without telling untruths. Critical feedback isn’t always necessary. I will always be kind, but I won’t lie.


Trust isn’t automatic for everyone. For many, trust needs to be earned. Trust means that I have confidence in your honesty and integrity. I know that you will do the right thing. And, for some people, it takes time for trust to be earned.

My son, Christopher, has a new executive at work. Chris is an independent worker and competent, and he is frustrated that his new boss is a micromanager. It is hard to create a partnership when one of the parties doesn’t trust the other. Trust takes time.

I coached Chris to keep his new manager apprised of what he did every step of the way, even though the last executive didn’t need or want that. It sounds intuitive that you should trust someone at work and assume they have your best interests at heart, but things don’t always feel that way. Until the new executive knows that Chris isn’t dropping any balls, doing things the way they want things done, and is confident that Chris is doing things as and when they should be done, the micromanaging tendencies will continue.

The trust hurdle isn’t that my son isn’t a good employee. The trust issue is that the new executive doesn’t know that yet. That trust can take weeks, months, or even years to establish. The longer you’ve worked together, the more trust should be visible.

This was one of my frustrations when I worked with Mr. Donnelly. Over time, he did extend some trust, but never to the extent my fellow EAs had with their executives. I felt that there was something I could be doing to make him trust me more.

Trust isn’t about you. It is about the other person. They will give you the level of trust they are comfortable with when they are comfortable. And sometimes, as my experience shows, it never comes to your desired level. And sometimes, it far surpasses what you’ve ever had before. Don’t stop trying to create trust, but don’t take it personally if it doesn’t come on your timeline.

If you don’t trust (past experiences significantly impact your ability to trust), acknowledge and actively work towards trusting others more. Honesty, as discussed above, is a contributor to building trust.


Respect ties the first two core components together. You must respect one another. Respect their knowledge, role, and experiences. Respect them by being polite and friendly. It can be as simple as acknowledging their preferences.

I am friendly in the morning. I smile, say good morning, and am cheery. I have worked with others who are the opposite. They jokingly say that they need a pot of coffee before they say good morning.

That’s not me. However, I respect that you aren’t the same as me. I won’t dance up to your desk and wax eloquent about what a beautiful day it is first thing in the morning (even though I want to!) to force you to put a smile on your face.

Mutual respect would be that you would say good morning to me, even though you usually don’t, because you know I’m a morning person. Hopefully, you have mutual respect, but to start, you must respect their ways and desires. Once that partnership develops, I assume you will have mutual respect.

You must be willing to offer respect first. If you don’t, you can’t expect to get respect back. It doesn’t work that way (in my personal and professional life experience).

Respect is often defined as professionalism. Treat your executive with the same level of professionalism that you expect from them, regardless of any personal differences or disagreements that may arise. This means always being punctual, adhering to deadlines, and following through on commitments. Avoid speaking negatively about your executive or colleagues, as it is disrespectful and will impact the trust component. If you need to complain about something the boss did, complain to the cat.

Open Communication

Effective and open communication is essential to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with your executive. Clear and open lines of communication foster trust and understanding and contribute to a positive work environment. Here are some key strategies to improve communication with your executive:

1. Schedule regular check-ins

Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your progress, challenges, and goals. They don’t have to be weekly if that doesn’t work, but you should have regular check-ins to ensure you know what is going on.

2. Active listening

When your executive is speaking, pay attention and actively listen. Don’t interrupt even if you want to. Show interest and engage in the conversation, taking notes if necessary. This demonstrates respect and can help you better understand their expectations.

3. Be proactive

Communication should not be limited to formal meetings. Take the initiative to update your executive on your progress and any potential roadblocks. This helps build trust.


Remember, effective communication is a two-way street. Encourage feedback and address any concerns or questions you may have. By developing strong communication skills, you will strengthen your relationship with your executive and build a partnership that works!

Nurturing a positive partnership with your executive is crucial for your professional growth and success within the organization. When it happens, it makes going to work a pleasure. It won’t always happen, but it is always worth trying to make it happen.

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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