If you, like famous investor Warren Buffett, “tap dance” to work, it probably has a lot to do with the maturity of your working relationships. Even an extremely trying or disheartening day on the job can be made tolerable by surrounding yourself with people who trust and support you (and vise versa). But being in a work environment does not automatically guarantee that this will happen. Building strong working relationships takes time, effort and even an X-factor: stepping outside your comfort zone.
Here are ten ideas to help you get there faster and on a sturdier footing. For more advice, check out this five-star course on how to build an awesome professional network.
Tip #1: Initiate Repeated Meetings And Interactions
Even a great first impression will fade over time if repeated interactions are not pursued. This is just as true of your manager as it is of the people on your team. The more frequently you interact with your colleagues, the faster the relationships will develop. Obviously you don’t want to scare people away by being over-eager or the guy (or lady) who invites team members to the bar every day after work. But even just initiating a conversation in the hallway or at the coffee pot will work wonders (and it’s not always as easy as you think, so keep reading).
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Tip #2: Social Work Events
These are the best places to introduce yourself to the kinds of people you’ve made repeated eye-contact with or who works close to you but has never been formally introduced. Most people will be thinking the same thing you are and will appreciate your effort to break the ice. Odds are you will laugh over this social awkwardness.
But the most important part of a work event is that people will not be as professionally guarded. You’re bound to get a lot of “work talk” when you strike up conversations in the hallway, but once work is over and you’re sharing a beer or lunch with someone, anything goes. People will feel less inhibited by professionalism and are more likely to open-up. They also won’t be up to their necks in work, so they’ll be more inclined to sustain a conversation and find out about who you are. Peruse this article for advice on communication styles and how they affect business.
Tip #3: Raise Your Hand
I mean that literally. When you’re in meetings or other public scenarios, don’t be afraid to speak up. Even if you don’t have something entirely revelatory to say, being “out-going” in this sense will beneficial in a number of ways. First, a large number of people are hearing from you at once, so you’re covering a lot of ground in one move. Second, if people like what they hear, they will seek you out themselves to talk or share ideas. Third, people who speak up in public are those that seem most approachable. From middle-school to the boardroom, this enthusiasm is infectious in the best way possible and people (especially colleagues) will want to get to know the person who is confident and ambitious.
Tip #4: Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
Complimenting your colleagues, while both a kind and beneficial act, can also be over-eager if done too early, too often or over too trivial matters. It’s best to develop an understanding of what your colleagues do consistently rather than just say something like, “Great idea!” A longer-term compliment will show that you’re paying attention to and appreciating their excellence.
Perhaps even more effective is paying compliments about your colleagues to your managers. More often than not, news gets around and your opinion is spread is a subtle yet tasteful manner. Compliments can appear more authentic when they’re coming through a middle-man. This builds trust behind the scenes and will surely make somebody’s day.
Tip #5: Share
It works in pre-school and it works in your career. Sharing information is not only good for building working relationships, it’s good for business. Of course, shared information doesn’t have to be strictly business related. If you know subjects that interest your colleagues, extra-curricular or business-minded, and if you just happen to stumble upon some great, relevant information, go ahead and share it. Even if it’s simply a brief article. And if you share the same interests, this will give you a mutual interest around which to plan future interactions. This course on improving your communication skills in one day can get you on your way.
Tip #6: Resolve Conflicts Early
Even if you can’t be friends with everyone (an unlikely scenario in the best of cases), you can still be amiable and friendly. But this requires addressing conflicts as soon as they happen, which is no walk in the park considering that most people would prefer never to address them.
Acting quickly is no excuse for being harsh or unyielding. You must be straight-forward and honest, but also courteous. Naturally, there will be at least two perspectives on the matter. You should also be eager and willing to resolve the conflict when proposals are made, especially if they are of the take-it-or-leave variety from a manager. The happiest ending is when both parties work together to make amends.
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Tip #7: Embrace Diversity
Whether you’re the new kid on the block or a veteran manager with a new team member, always embrace diversity. The benefits of a diverse work and environment are numerous and significant. Check out this blog post on example of diversity and how it strengthens business for more information.
Maybe you aren’t working with your best friends, but who cares? Diversity is a beautiful thing. Differences in race, gender, background, experience, age and education are things that make your team and company stronger. Encouraging diversity is an excellent way to fuel ideas and keep opportunities open. Here’s a great course on reducing generational conflicts at work (seems quite pertinent to the tech industry).
Tip #8: Moderate Opportunistic Relationships
Getting to know your manager is one thing, but milking the relationship for preference is quite another. Don’t be so status-conscious when building relationships. This will close you off to potential friends and your intentions will be obvious. Besides, a manager is not going to admire or trust someone who is only interested in relationships that benefit them personally. And being held in high-esteem by your colleagues is one of the most important factors for gaining upper-level management’s attention and respect. The best future leaders are those that can earn the trust of their peers.
The same is just as true if you’re a manager and you show preferential treatment. This is not the way to get the most our of your employees and it will not doubt instigate many of the things I have warned against: unhealthy competition, lack of sharing, gossip circles, etc. If you are trying to encourage employees who you believe have management potential, be open about it and try to avoid public displays of confidence (by which I mean, confiding). This course can help you take your best employees to the next level without jeopardizing the rest of the team.
Tip #9: Avoid Hierarchies, To An Extent
It is only natural to become closer with certain colleagues, especially those you work with on a day-t-day basis. But as for the rest of the office, don’t limit yourself to a close-knit and homogenous circle. Your peers will view this as short-sighted, vain and definitely anti-diversity. This will force you out of your comfort zone, but it’s for the best. Develop relationships on an even keel, with people both similar and dissimilar to you and your closest work friends. Having friends in different departments, who possess different skill sets or who have seemingly nothing in common with you is beneficial in just about every personal and professional way possible.
Tip #10: Communication
Effective communication is stressed over and over when it comes to good business politics. It is just as important for building strong working relationships. With so many channels of communication available – from test messages to face-to-face – it’s important to consider communication ethics when sharing information or ideas. This blog post on the elements of communication can help you understand the science behind effective interaction.
If you have something important to tell someone, don’t shoot an email if you can avoid it. Use this as an excuse to get some face-to-face time. This will also demonstrate that you are conscious of the other person’s interests. But routing messaging is part of the fun of building the casual side of relationships. Sending a quick, light-hearted message goes a long way towards closing the gap in friendships.
Communication will benefit almost every aspect of your life, from your presence in meetings to your conversations with family. Do yourself a favor and invest in this lost art: it’s easy with this course that will help you express your ideas, deliver confident presentations and improve your overall ability to communicate effectively.