Are you struggling to build rapport with your coworkers? Or maybe you want to build better relationships because your career progression depends on it. Do you burn way too many bridges? Either way, building positive workplace relationships will open doors to greater opportunities.
With remote working now commonplace, it’s harder than ever to form bonds, but we’ll delve into the specifics of that later.
When you look back on your career success – promotions, new job offers, pay rises – you’ll see that your good relationships facilitated your success and your bad relationships contributed to your failures.
Great leaders focus on mastering their relationships, not just their technical capabilities, and it’s evidence of this very behaviour that your senior leaders are hunting for.
Here’s how to win friends and influence people.
1. Speak Up In Meetings.
Some people love the sound of their own voice, and they talk for the sake of it. But most of us sit, listen, and observe in meetings and video calls.
We often forgo the opportunity to ask questions when there is a pause or when the presenter invites the room to ask questions.
Why do we do that – sit there like statues?
If you get anxious about speaking up, start by:
- Asking a concise question.
- Making a point succinctly.
I know that’s easier said than done, and you’ve likely had some negative experiences in the past, but how many opportunities are you missing by not taking your shots?
Maybe you rambled on too long before, and brain fog stopped you in your tracks.
Or you got flustered and forgot what the hell you were saying halfway through a sentence.
We’ve all been there.
It’s not easy, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
What is your deepest fear?
Fears are deep-rooted, but what is your deepest fear?
If you’ve ever seen the film Coach Carter, you’ll know the scene I’m referring to. The words are an excerpt from an inspirational poem written by Marianne Williamson.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
Listen to the words.
Even if you’re not the type to get psyched up by the Hollywood melodrama, you’ll be able to relate on some level.
2. Don’t Kiss Ass.
Nobody likes a suck-up.
If you suddenly start being overly nice to colleagues, they will suspect an ulterior motive and won’t trust you.
What’s the right balance to strike?
A better question is, “How do you want others to perceive you?” Your personal brand is ultimately defined not by your ability to make others feel good about themselves, but by your:
- Personal values.
- Track record of success.
Your actions should align with who you are – your authentic self.
If you’re not a morning person, don’t burst through the office doors with a rendition of Walking On Sunshine and spreading sentiments of toxic positivity.
3. Meet 1:1 With Senior Management.
You need to be selective about whom you build positive work relationships with.
While there’s nothing wrong with getting to know junior staff, you only have a certain amount of time in your day.
Spend it wisely.
Will you choose to:
- Organise a meeting with a senior VP you have a dotted line relationship with, or
- Chat to the new recruit in an unrelated department?
Key people of influence will open doors for you if you’re on excellent terms with them, and they want their brains picked by people they view as having high potential.
To quote an overused adage: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Influential people are time-poor, so you need a compelling reason for them to sacrifice their time. Come prepared with a specific meeting agenda; your focus should be on how you can serve them, not yourself. Ask yourself, “How can I add value to them?”
“Hi [key person of influence],
My ears pricked up when I heard you speaking on the conference call the other day, and I was impressed at your vision for your department and the progress you and the team are making towards that.
I know you’ll be super busy, but if you find the time in your schedule, it would be great if I could pick your brains for 10–15 minutes.
There’s a process I’ve been testing within our team, and I’d love to share the [time savings/cost savings/value add] with you. If implemented cross-functionally, I’m positive that we could see similar (if not stronger) results.
Please let me know if we can schedule time in your diary for a quick chat.
4. Support Your Colleagues’ Projects.
If colleagues within your direct team are involved in projects, ask them if there’s anything you can do to support them.
Even if the project has been assigned exclusively to them, you may be able to pick some of the balls they’re dropping.
In many cases, however, supporting colleagues doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do their work.
Look for opportunities to teach a person how to fish, rather than just giving them a fish.
Say you’re a wizard at Excel spreadsheets and know how to carry out SUMIF formulas, but one of your colleagues is counting data manually. You could:
- Show them how to calculate the formula with a few simple examples.
- Demonstrate how much time they’ll save as a result.
Choose who you support wisely. Learn to differentiate between a struggling high performer and a time-waster going nowhere. Think strategically about building good workplace relationships with hard workers who are likely to open doors for you in the future.
Don’t be a sacrificial lamb.
If you devote too much time to supporting your colleagues, your own performance metrics will suffer.
This will unintentionally cause a rift between you and your manager.
Remember, the goal here is to build good relationships, not damage them.
It’s good to become the go-to person and be renowned for your expertise, but you must learn how to say no – and do it tactfully.
Always couch your reason for saying no in a professional light:
- “Because I won’t be able to finish the task on time due to my other commitments.”
- “Because I don’t have the resources or knowledge to carry out the work successfully.”
5. Avoid Gossip & Office Politics.
Every smart person knows this adage:
If colleagues hear you gossiping about others, they’ll lose trust in you because they’ll fear you saying similar things about them behind their backs.
Refrain from passing judgment if you find yourself entangled in a conversation about another colleague.
You don’t have to agree with what’s being said, but you don’t have to expressly disagree, either.
Simply steer the conversation towards an innocuous topic.
If you discover that you’re on the receiving end of gossip, the old “sticks-and-stones” mentality is your best line of defence. Don’t engage in tit-for-tat. It’s draining, and it’ll sap your energy.
There are, of course, exceptions when it comes to dealing with harassment, bullying, and vicious rumours.
Contact HR if you have evidence of derogatory things being said about you or other colleagues.
6. Find That Sweet Balance.
“Work you” and “outside-of-work you” are two different people.
But you’ll offend your colleagues at every turn if you don’t filter out some of that behaviour. Some will even find that a bit intimidating.
You might argue that’s the real, authentic version of you.
While that’s true, that doesn’t mean to say your work personality isn’t the authentic you, either.
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone suffers from split personality disorders, but Plato viewed our personalities as a trinity consisting of:
- A charioteer (the rational self) and
- Two horses (the spirit and the “appetite”).
Psychologist Roberto Assagioli argues,
If you want to build professional relationships, you need to adapt your personality to your surroundings and cut out inappropriate behaviour.
We’re blind to our dysfunctional habits. Ask a manager who you respect, “what do I do, without realising that I do it, that’s holding me back?” They’ll respect your courage and provide feedback that illuminates roadblocks to your success.
7. Appreciate Your Manager.
Arguably, your relationship with your manager is your most important in the workplace.
A good manager can open doors for you, and a bad one can block your progress.
But we’re all human; we come to work to do our job to support ourselves and our families.
You can rally behind your manager by:
- Respectfully disagreeing with them during the ideation phase, but being fully behind them once the decision is made – even if you had a different position.
- Taking the initiative to relieve them of an administrative burden before they even ask.
If you’ve ever felt undervalued or unappreciated, you can empathise with your manager. It’s so often a thankless task.
Show them gratitude.
There will undoubtedly be times when you need to push back on your manager’s requests.
But when you do, ask your boss to help you re-prioritise your existing workload – rather than becoming thorny:
8. Connect With Colleagues.
When passing colleagues or when in their presence, say hello. You don’t always have to engage in deep conversation.
But if time permits, steer the conversation to find some common ground – or better yet, a common goal.
If you work in a remote work environment, drop your coworkers an instant message from time to time to see how they’re getting on.
It’s so easy to lose touch with people when working remotely, but you need to remain visible – not just to your colleagues but your senior leaders too.
Is small talk a waste of time?
Getting to know your co-workers on a personal level will strengthen your bonds, but people don’t let their guard down so easily – over 70% of adults confess to disliking small talk.
Getting people to open up is an uphill battle. We’re fiercely protective about who we allow into our lives. You can’t go wading in asking invasive questions like:
- Why haven’t you had children?
- Why don’t you drink alcohol?
- Have you had any cosmetic surgery?
- How old are you?
- Who did you vote for in the last election?
Bide your time and wait until the moment is ripe to ask them how they are or about their weekend. Maybe they’ve been to a music festival, a birthday party, or a bike race in preparation for a triathlon.
You don’t need to have an interest or commonality in their recreational activity. You need to show interest in them.
According to Harvard researchers, the key to small to is to ask meaningful follow-up questions.
You should ask questions that relate to the discussion to demonstrate that you’ve been paying close attention.
If the conversation isn’t flowing, pivot. Change the subject by saying, “So, tell me what’s going on with your [specific project or event].”
9. Don’t Be A Mood Hoover.
Are you the type of person who rocks up to work on a morning huffing and puffing and ready to blow the place down?
Maybe you got caught up in road rage, and now everybody has to suffer your wrath until you’ve downed your third coffee.
Your negativity repels people.
Your complaints and criticisms are probably legitimate. But very few people truly care about your problems. They’re often spinning too many of their own plates.
Does having a positive attitude mean you have to be overly expressive and happy-clappy?
But you can pinch yourself every time you find yourself complaining – especially about trivial matters.
Any of these sound familiar?
- “It’s too noisy in here. I wish people would talk quietly.”
- “This meeting was supposed to finish ten minutes ago.”
- “Ugh, the soup in the canteen looks like diarrhoea.”
The office has become a culture of complainers, but we have to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world.
When we do, our overall job satisfaction improves drastically.
How To Build Relationships In Remote Workplaces.
In a remote setting, team members don’t have the luxury of seeing firsthand what the wider team is getting up to. They often work in silos.
There’s no groundbreaking secret to communicating in remote workplaces, except that you need to overcommunicate.
Some may get bored hearing you repeat yourself, but which is the worst of the two evils? Having colleagues who have:
- Heard you say the same thing a few times (but are well-drilled) or
- No idea about what’s happening in the business?
If you’re in a leadership position, look for every opportunity to:
- Reiterate the company mission.
- Discuss whether the company is on track with that mission.
- Explain what the respective functions are doing to contribute.
- Provide details about how the rest of the company is performing.
The more you do that, the more likely your team is to have a positive relationship with the business.
Frequently Asked Questions About Building Positive Workplace Relationships At Work.
Here are some insights that I wish I knew when entering the workforce.
Should I keep a workplace romance a secret?
Estimates vary, but some researchers reckon that 24% and 75% of employees have engaged in a workplace romance.
82% of those keep it a secret – at least, to begin with.
If the relationship is between a manager and a subordinate, you’ll need to let your line manager know. You don’t want to be accused of favouritism.
The power imbalance could also be a breach of workplace code or ethics, and one of you may be required to work in another department.
People are perceptive. Even if you think it’s a secret, it’ll be obvious to so many.
It’s only a matter of time before others find out.
You should always be professional at work regardless of when the cat gets out of the bag. Public displays of affection, such as kissing and hugging, are frowned upon.
How should I deal with a workplace conflict?
You should avoid ugly spats at all costs. It’s a lose-lose situation. It reflects badly on you, regardless of whether you win or not.
Always respect different opinions even when you know you’re objectively right.
Let the other person save face. Also, everyone gets things wrong from time to time.
Whatever you do, don’t ever explicitly state, “You’re wrong.”
If you want to counter an opinion professionally, respond, “Yes, and I think we should look at the alternative because…”
If you discover that you’re in the wrong, accept it humbly.
A scientific mindset can change its stance in the presence of new information. Accepting you’re wrong shows maturity and is conducive to building workplace relationships.
There is such a thing as “good conflict”.
Final Thoughts On Building Strong Relationships.
You already know how to build positive workplace relationships. Even if your circle is tight, you’ll have bonded with people – unless you’re a recluse. You’ve been doing it since birth.
Any relationship is like a bank account.
If you take, take, take, then you’ll soon find it overdrawn. But if you deposit some time and effort, you’ll accrue more friends and build great workplace relationships.
Your goal is to be in the black, not the red.
If you do so with a sense of altruism, without a hidden agenda, you’ll climb the social hierarchy and win more of your colleagues over.
Not everyone, though.
There’s always some died-in-the-wool Karen who’ll dismiss your attempts to build good working relationships.