Fundamentals of Building Relationships at Work



Relationships are an important aspect in all of our lives. Relationships with family, friends, and our work colleagues. Relationships with the customers we serve or the people that serve us. There’s no escaping how we interact with different people. As our lives are filled with different relationships it would make sense that we are all perfect at building and maintaining thriving relationships? Perhaps not… Relationships breakdown, we struggle to see eye to eye and there maybe conflict that feels irreversible.


Based on observations over twenty years in corporate roles and from the experiences shared by many of my coaching clients I’ve recognised one of the biggest barriers to having a rewarding and fulfilling career is being able to build effective relationships. These relationships may be with your manager, your team, your colleagues, supply chain or customers. We can put in policies, procedures, contracts and systems to tell us how to work together, when to work together and what we do together, yet without the foundations of the key ‘human aspects’ of building relationships our efforts can be ineffective, take longer than necessary or at worst fail.


What are these foundations? And why do they matter?



1. Why?


First, it’s important to understand the benefits of building effective relationships. What’s in it for you, for the other person and for the businesses you work for? It’s usually business outcomes that are most frequently talked about; “Well we need to build a good relationship with our customers, so they come back to us again”. If we put business goals to the side and explore the benefits at a human level of two people just working together well or having a positive interaction, we can see there are other benefits to building effective relationships. Human brains thrive when we have connection to others. The brain considers connection as important as the nutrition we feed our body with. Rejection is perceived as a threat and can be as significant as the physical pain felt in other parts of our body when we hurt ourselves (The Coaching Academy, Neuroscience for Coaches). Put simply, good relationships at work help our minds keep healthy and happy.


2. Listen


The second step in building relationships is to learn how to really listen. You know that saying “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason”? To truly build effective relationships we have to take time to listen. Listen to understand, rather than listen to reply. It’s important to remove all distractions, physical and mental and focus on what a person is really saying. Asking open questions to dig deeper and help to process your understanding of their point of view or priorities.


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3. Understand


We make assumptions all of the time. Even if we think we don’t! Can’t get along with someone at work? Ever found yourself thinking “why have they got a problem with me”, “why do they have to be so difficult” or “how can I change their opinion”. We can reframe why we might not be able to form an effective relationship with someone by asking the following questions;

  • What does this person really care about?

  • What might this person have happening in their life right now that’s a challenge?

  • What have been their previous experiences in this type of situation

  • Might these experiences shape how they are reacting?

  • How might their values and beliefs shape what they see as a good outcome here?

  • How can I change how I approach this situation taking all of this into account?

With this information we can bring in some empathy and adapt our approach so that the other person’s needs are met.

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4. Communicate


What we say and how it’s received by a person can hugely differ. How we receive information can be deleted, distorted, or generalised based on our understanding due to the factors mentioned above. In addition, the language we use to communicate is extremely important. Positive language, positive tone and using the person’s name are just a few examples of what helps us to communicate effectively.


5. Care


The final step is to show we care through how we act. It brings together all of the previous steps and includes that we always ‘do what we say we are going to do’. That we are consistent in our actions, and we continue to listen, understand, and communicate in a way that adapts based on changes in situation, environment, and priorities. Above all we are human in our interactions. Whilst some of this might sound like common sense, the importance of taking this approach consistently should not be underestimated. If you want to feel more connected at work, if you want your staff to work together better or if you want to improve how you work with customers, the importance of creating space, taking time to learn, reflect and adapt – whether that’s you personally or the teams you work in and with is key to success.



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