13 June 2024

8 Ways to Build Strong Relationships at Work

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If only we could all work better together. Productivity would soar, happiness would abound, and work would be so much more fun. Yet for so many, relationships with bosses and colleagues turn sour, stress escalates, and motivation turns to misery.

Average life expectancy is around 80 years. We’ll clock up around 30 years working closely with others. We’ll spend 26 years sleeping and 7 years trying to get to sleep – much of that fretting about work. That’s a lot of our lifetime to waste with workplace woes.

In the post pandemic talent war, we all need to focus much more on doing the right things to foster strong relationships at work. The pillars of success lie in trust and respect, built on foundations of self-awareness and communication, and cemented by demonstrating diversity through actions not words.

The study of the dynamics of workplace groups point to eight steps to take to make the office a happier and more productive place and to help to retain talent.

  1. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Too often people are on transmit at work. Let’s flip that. Let’s create an environment where we ask questions of our colleagues, and we listen deeply to their answers to get true meaning of what’s going on. A very common gripe is that people feel diminished because they are simply not listened to at work.
  2. Put aside time to build relationships. We need to schedule real time to spend on relating to our colleagues. Funnily enough, it just won’t happen by osmosis. Too often we are all too busy being busy and miss what is happening in front of our very eyes. This is the first step to building better relationships. Ring fence time to sit with colleagues and listen to what they are doing and how they are doing. Diary time every week to carry out these eight steps.
  3. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Simple emotional intelligence tells us that if we approach things from other people’s point of view, the world looks different. One of the most common and value destroying traits at work is silo behaviour. Those who can banish the silo tendencies and see their working world as others see it, will immediately build better workplace relationships. One of the truest of maxims is that there is a rationale behind every human act – but it is not normally the one which is most immediately obvious. Consider a little more deeply what those rationales may be, and by stepping into others shoes you will progress on the path to better relationships.
  4. Get to know your colleagues. The pandemic demonstrated how little we knew about people we had worked with for many years. Suddenly, we were in their homes, meeting their children and their cats, and seeing their wallpaper. Spend time getting to know much more about the people you work alongside, and you will be rewarded. What are their children doing? What are their passions? How do they spend their time outside work? And ask them about it. This step helps to build the bonds of shared experience.
  5. Show gratitude and sprinkle praise. Praise is the least expensive but most effective way of inspiring and motivating others. It sits at the heart of injecting positivity into relationships. One action we can all take is to praise three people every day. Say, “thanks” and “well done.” Call out good work. Encourage people to build on their success. Positivity is met by positivity.
  6. Offer to help. Around 70% of offers to help are never taken up. But the very act of being there and offering is normally hugely appreciated. So often in professional life people can feel quite isolated and alone with the weight of the problem they must fix. If everyone, every day, offered to help a colleague the wave of positivity would cheer the team up by itself alone.
  7. Keep your promises. Keeping promises sits at the heart of trust. If you say you are going to do something by 4pm on Friday, make sure you do it. One of the biggest wreckers of relationships is the failure to keep small promises. Deliver on time. Do what you say you are going to do. Don’t preach one thing and do another.
  8. Be kind. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. The smallest acts of kindness build trust and turbo charge relationships. Act small and often – a birthday card, sharing cakes, warm words, simple advice or just noticing how people are. These are all acts of great kindness which sit at the heart of building relationships.

Some of these eight steps may seem incredibly simple. But these small traits are so often not followed. Failing to do one of these things might not be career ending. Failing to do several on them will result in a lifetime of failed relationships at work and at home. The simple truths are the most powerful.

Jeremy Campbell is the CEO of performance improvement and technology business Black Isle Group; an expert on team building and group dynamics; and an executive coach.

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