Most people spend 8 or 9 hours a day working, five days a week. And whether or not you realize it, you also spend 8 or 9 hours a day, five days a week building relationships too.
Every time you hold the elevator for a coworker, you are building your relationship with him or her. Each day when you say good morning to the receptionist on your floor, you are building a relationship with that individual.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the little things that comprise those relationships, you might not be building positive ones. It is easy to think that simply being polite or even just “not hostile” with your coworkers is enough to maintain good relationships with them – or maybe you don’t think relationships are important to your success?
It is time to actively invest in building positive relationships with your employees, peers, and manager(s). Relationships are an investment in your career and one that can often determine your success when it comes to being happy, promoted, paid well, and appreciated at work.
You work with people, and those people will determine your success in the future – so why not make the most of them?
Below are some of my best ideas on building better relationships at the office.
Asking questions is one of the easiest and most obvious ways to build relationships. Of course, they can’t just be any questions; you should choose questions that will show you care about them as an individual. That means questions where you genuinely want to know the answers.
My favorite line of questioning involves learning about someone’s background. How did they get into their current role? Where did they work before? What do they want to do next? What skills are they looking to build and how are they going about it (classes, online reading, toastmasters)?
I always find I learn so much from these conversations – about the person, but also about my work and the team. It is hard not to be curious and interested in answers to questions like these.
Put this into practice by taking a peer out for coffee or spending a few minutes chatting at their desk. Try to ask open-ended questions as opposed to “yes or no” ones. Plan out a few questions that will start conversations where you can form (deeper) connections.
If it starts out rocky, be patient, it might be a few times before they realize you *are* genuinely interested and open up (especially if this is something you don’t normally do). And don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions if you are interested in what they are saying!
Relationships go both ways. If you ask someone a question, it is not impossible that they’ll reciprocate with a question. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about your personal life at work, but your boss and your employees know you are human and do things on the weekend too – and they want to build relationships with you too.
Answer honestly and tell them about parts of your life! Your manager doesn’t need to know that you had a few too many glasses of wine at dinner on Saturday, but they may enjoy hearing about the going away dinner you hosted for your son who is headed off to college.
Plus opening up can make you more authentic and likable. No one wants to work with the perfect coworker that does everything perfectly and by the book. As humans we are attracted to flaws and texture (just look at the success of reality TV) so don’t be afraid to open up a little and be yourself.
Remember & reference.
You know that awkward moment when someone remembers your name but you just can’t recall theirs? Or vice versa when you remember who they are, but they don’t remember you? We all want to be remembered. Every one of us has a deep desire to be liked and accepted.
Your relationships are about an ongoing conversation, and asking your coworker one question isn’t going to create a long lasting friendship. You must return to people regularly; I like to schedule appointment reminders to catch up with people every month, every six months, or whatever regularity makes sense for that relationship.
I try to keep notes about my conversations. And not just work notes, but notes about the person and their life outside of work. Reference things you’ve discussed in prior conversations with people to cement your connections with things they’ve told you before. Ask your employee what he and his wife have named their newborn baby or whether his grandmother’s health has improved.
You can also build on ideas you’ve talked about that are work-related. If you asked a peer about their background or how they came to work at this company, you can re-start that conversation by asking what their future goals are. Create a lasting career-based partnership with this person, and you may even find yourself working towards similar goals with a partner or ally you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Earn their trust.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. If you are going to build a relationship with someone at work, it will require (1) time and (2) a demonstration of your trustworthiness.
Asking questions and sharing with people at your workplace is a good thing, but don’t ever take their trust for granted. Don’t use things they’ve told you against them or share them with other coworkers if it’s not public information. It can take years to build a strong relationship, but usually only takes one negative experience to ruin it.
Stay away from discussing work-related gossip. If someone does gossip to you, listen but resist the temptation to gossip back! You never know how and when you will be quoted by someone else, and you don’t want to be seen as part of a gossipy group anyways. Spend your time talking productively rather than engaging in complaining or gossip.
Managing relationships with specific people
There is also a lot of strategic relationship-building that you can do with particular people you interact with a lot. After all, not all of your relationships are the same with every person at the office.
Here are some ways to maximize relationships with different kinds of people at work:
With your manager:
- Strive to under-promise and over-deliver.
At the very least you should always turn in quality work to your boss by the deadline you agreed upon. But, if you really want to build a relationship with your boss that makes you stand out, deliver exemplary work and don’t wait until the deadline to turn it in. Ask questions about what success looks like, find out about their biggest goals for a project, and position yourself as someone they can always count on.
- Anticipate, offer, and act.
The best employees anticipate problems that will arise, offer to help before they are asked, and act when no one else is stepping forward. Managers have flaws just like everyone else; instead of silently seething about how your boss never remembers to bring her meeting agenda, anticipate it and bring an extra copy. Or offer to print off agendas for everyone who will be in attendance, or write it up on the whiteboard before the meeting. Not only have you productively dealt with something that would usually make you mad, but also your boss will remember you as coming prepared to team meetings.
- Help them succeed at their job. This can be done in dozens of ways, but here are some of my favorites:
Don’t wait for boss to tell you what to do; do the things you know need to get done before they ask so they can take it off their list.
Meet regularly with your boss or email him/her weekly with an update of what you accomplished, what questions you have, and what your next project will be. This helps them to know that (1) you are doing the right work and (2) you are open to their feedback and opinion to help you do the best job possible.
Be a team player, step up, and do the tasks that aren’t getting done so they don’t fall on your boss. You will stand out as a leader.
Bring solutions, because anyone can bring problems to your boss’ attention.
With your co-workers:
- Ask for help, offer to help.
Your coworkers are usually facing the same pressures and experiencing the same stressors as you. If you know your coworker just dealt with the problem similar to yours, ask them about it. Asking for help can be a great way to demonstrate that you trust and value someone, as can being available to help. You don’t have to drop everything every single time a coworker needs something, but being willing to help out when appropriate will set you apart.
- Don’t play the blame game.
The workplace can become a competitive environment at times, which can lead to throwing people under the bus. If you make a mistake, own up to it and go above and beyond to fix it. If you know a coworker didn’t do as much as they should on a project, don’t go to your boss or complain behind their back – troubleshoot it with that person.
Not only will your boss think higher of you for not tattling or bringing problems to them, you won’t jeopardize your relationship with that coworker. Plus you’ll demonstrate that you are a leader in the group – and that is a good thing.
With your employees:
- Be a resource for them.
Your employees should feel comfortable coming to you, so roll out the welcome mat and remind them that it’s there anytime they need it. An open door policy will only go so far, though, since not everyone feels comfortable approaching their boss.
You also have to actively create an environment in which your employees feel comfortable coming to you by making it a point to consistently spend time with them and building your relationships with them. The better they know you and you know them, the easier it will be for you to communicate about tough issues.
- Actively appreciate their work.
You may be impressed with the quality of your team’s work, but they won’t know unless you send them a quick email or walk down the hall to tell them! Be conscientious of appreciating the things your employees do well and being honest about how they can improve. Make it a point to praise people publicly and to spend time helping people invest in themselves to improve.
- Involve your employees.
Ask for feedback on how you could be a better boss to them. Whenever you have to make a big decision that will impact your employees, ask them how they feel and factor that into your decision; let them know how they’ll be impacted and what is informing your decision. Keeping your employees involved in improving their workplace will lead to a happier workplace for everyone.
Having positive relationships with the people you work with is critical for success. Opportunities come from people, and it is by building trust and good rapport that you earn the opportunities people have to offer.
What can you do today to strengthen a relationship at work?
How can you be someone that your peers value and appreciate?
Look outside of yourself, and make a relationship that matters a little bit better.
If you have other ideas or strategies, or even questions – leave them in the comments!