The world of work is the biggest team sport any of us will ever take part in, yet it can often feel like our co-workers are on the opposing team rather than playing on the same side—and for the same company. If you think your personal life is complicated, think about your workplace relationships!
In my first career, I spent 15 successful years in the commercial finance industry, where numbers ruled the day. The mantra was “It’s not personal, it’s business.” However, what I quickly observed was that the successful companies—those that not only achieved, but exceeded expectations—were the ones didn’t focus on the numbers alone. They also concentrated on their people strategy.
Relationship management is a critical soft skill that ensures that the hard goals are delivered. We’ve all worked with people we dislike or find irritating and frustrating to be with. The person whose ego is so large the office has to install double doors to get his or her head through, the colleague who just can’t stop talking—about anything but work. And there’s always someone who seems to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and seeks to share their complaints with all.
On the other hand, I am sure you have experienced professional relationships that embodied the partnership approach. A colleague who went out of their way to help you to succeed, who collaborated and shared information to ensure individual and business goals were achieved.
Winning workplace relationships don’t just “happen” by chance—and neither do ineffective ones. Relationships wilt or break down when we:
Forget to be present
We are all guilty of it: checking email while we are on the phone, not actively listening during conversations. These all send the clear message: “You are not important.”
If you want to avoid this, switch off the computer screen, turn away from the distractions. If necessary, signal that you are in the middle of something and schedule time when you can focus. Email can wait. People can’t.
A short message along the lines of:
“I can see this is important to you and want to ensure you have my full attention. Right now I have to finish this report / go to a meeting in 5 minutes / reply to this urgent customer email. Can we meet at 2:00?”
This sends a powerful message of commitment to the relationship. Often instead of taking the lead and signaling our needs, we allow the unexpected interruption to continue while simultaneously thinking about the work at hand. Nobody wins.
Things will crop up and get in the way of genuine commitments. When this happens, pick up the phone or walk over to the person’s desk and ask for an extension. Communicate why you are no longer able to assist. If you let your co-worker down, you could spend months rebuilding trust—all for the lack of a quick conversation.
Fail to apologize, quickly and sincerely
You are going to make mistakes. When you do, step up quickly and apologize sincerely. Ignore the temptation to tell white lies or minimize the impact you’ve had on others. Mistakes can sometimes be an opportunity to turn a relationship around!
Selectively build relationships
If you focus only on the “right” connections, your style will come across as inauthentic. I’ve worked with many leaders who, when they analyze their critical workplace relationships, discover that these are skewed in one direction (usually up) and are not representative across the organization.
Building an effective network requires a 360° perspective, within your company or industry—and outside of it!
Not all workplace relationships will start (or finish) as mutually positive. In effecting change in your relationships, expect the unexpected. There will be times when things transform quickly; there will also be times where a relationship that seems to be making progress suddenly takes a step backwards. You will need to apply your relationship cultivation skills, and be resilient.
Don't neglect therelationships you've already built. Use AMA's resources to improve your communication skills.