Relationships at Work

Relationships at WorkYour success at work depends as much on strong relationships as it does on job skills. Even if you're socially very outgoing, you'll be more successful if you think as much about the needs of others as you do your own.

The single most important key to successful relationship building is to focus on other people's needs. Making an effort to get to know people simply doesn't go far enough if your approach is too self-oriented.

Why Relationships at Work are Important

Positive relationships are essential for your success for many reasons. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Getting ahead is a bit like getting elected. Having supporters who say good things about you helps you to get ahead. Your reputation depends on what people say about you, not just on how well you do your work. You don't want people to describe you as a backstabber, as uncooperative, arrogant, untrustworthy or in any other nasty way.
  • Collaboration with other parts of the business is much easier if people who don't know you well trust you. To gain the cooperation of others, you need to be seen as someone who will reciprocate. You can't expect to get help from people if you never give any when you are asked.
  • Teamwork within your own department is much more productive when relationships between team members are positive. There is much more to effective teamwork than just getting along with people, but it's an important first step.
  • Job satisfaction. Work is more enjoyable if everyone gets along. Even if you don't need much social contact, you may find it uncomfortable or unsatisfying working where people ignore or avoid you. Achieving targets with people is more fun than on your own. Professional golfers are individuals but they report being much more strongly motivated to do well when they play in team events like the President's Cup or the Ryder Cup.

Building Effective Relationships at Work

The social skills that help you get to know people outside of work are important in work too, but not the whole story.

Show interest in people

The key step that many people overlook is showing interest in others, sensitivity to their needs and being willing to help them. The best way to show interest in others and get to know them is to ask them questions. It's not about grilling them like a police interrogator but regularly asking questions.

First, showing interest and getting people talking about themselves and their interests helps to get people to like you. Second, you can then use that information to enable you to better help them. Think of them like customers and yourself as a sales person. If you really want to help them get what they want (to sell yourself to them), you need to understand what's important to them, their likes and dislikes. Also, people appreciate a good listener, so try not to seem impatient or give the impression that you're just going through the motions and not really listening.

Spend time with people

While it's vital to maintain a professional distance from people at work if you don't want others to gossip and badmouth you, it's also important to spend time with people both on and off the job. Have lunch together or a drink after work, preferably in small groups so it doesn't look like you are excluding others.

Be strategic

You can't devote your whole time at work to building relationships, so you need to prioritize. This means placing more emphasis on relationship building with some people than others. Being strategic means investing more time in those activities that you think will yield the bigger return. Of course, you can make the wrong strategic decisions, as can a business, so you need to adjust your investment of time regularly as new people come along, others leave or you judge that a certain person won't be much help to you in acheiving your career goals.

Balance self-oriented with other-oriented goals

It's vital to avoid a one-sided focus on the question: "What's in it for me?" People will pick up on it quickly if you're only interested in your own needs. The more important the relationship to you, the more you need to convey the impression that helping that person is something that you enjoy doing or is important to you.

Your boss is a good example. As your most important customer, you need to keep abreast of your boss's changing needs and priorities at all times, volunteering for projects and being accommodating without being too ingratiating or self-effacing. Most bosses appreciate honest feedback and diplomatic suggestions more than a "yes" man or woman. People are more likely to respect you if you don't come across as too desperate to win anyone's attention.

Relationship Building Skills

Put people at ease by being relaxed, telling entertaining stories, being open about yourself, admitting mistakes, thus showing appropriate humility, and spending time with people.

Active listening means more than just paying attention. It includes asking for elaboration by saying such things as "I see, tell me more." "And then what happened?" "How did that make you feel?" "What do you hope to get out of that?" Even just saying "I understand" and waiting to hear more counts as active listening.

Sensitivity to people's feelings. Even if you aren't naturally perceptive, not very quick to notice how people are feeling, you can take the time to ask periodically, especially during stressful times and when it is possible that something might have upset someone.

Trust means delivering on promises, being honest, not talking behind people's backs or badmouthing them. If you speak positively about others, as long as you are genuine and not articifial, people will assume that you don't likely say bad things about them.

Share information. This doesn't mean cc'ing everybody you know on every email you send. It's much more personal if, having discovered people's interests, you share information with them that is related to their interests.

Help others. Be quick to volunteer to help people, remembering the need to be strategic. You can't do everyone else's job for them. This is like collecting IOU's, keeping in mind that you can't always expect people to do as much for you as you do for them.

Diplomatic assertiveness. Assert yourself diplomatically. Make suggestions in a sensitive manner, using questions if possible, like: "How would this work for you?"

Regular communication. With your most important relationships, that is your boss and key stakeholders within your team or across the organization, try to set up regular times to exchange information and ideas.

Conflict resolution. Resolve conflict promptly and in a collaborative, win-win manner before relationships degenerate.

Networking. Ask your contacts to introduce you to other key players in the organization or industry. Build relationships with them selectively.

Get feedback. Devise some method to get feedback on how people perceive you and their relationships with you. A one-page anonymous questionnaire is useful and not too time-consuming. You are like a business that needs feedback from your customers to be successful.

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