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10 ways to improve your relationships at work

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Colleagues… People you didn’t choose but you see every day and have to collaborate with. 

It’s the challenging reality we all face everyday of our work life, and we manage more-or-less successfully.

For some people it comes naturally, communication and brainstorms flow. For others, you can’t get your head around it… What’s wrong with them? I know the feeling.

Like your family, you didn’t choose them but you manage to make it work – with some ups and downs… Certainly some times are better than others, but, with commitment, you create a constructive atmosphere where it’s enjoyable to spend time with them.

It’s pretty much the same principle at work.

You may think my relatives and co-workers comparison bold, or odd, but I see a lot of commonality.

How many hours do you spend working with people? I bet it’s more than you spend with even close family members.

How many dinners did you have disagreeing with Uncle Joe about politics? How many times did you laugh your ass off with your cousin over lunch? How many times did you get upset on a call with your parents micromanaging you..?

So yeah, I like this comparison.

Here history/legacy and love are important factors for creating strong bonds with even the weirdest of your family. 

At work it might take a bit more work to create and sustain healthy relationships. But that’s how it is for every relationship. You need to work at it to make it worth it.

I’ll stop the family comparison here 🙂 

Let’s explore how you can improve your relationship with your colleagues…

What is a good relationship at work?

I believe there are several characteristics which make for good, healthy relationships.

Trust: you can be open and honest in your thoughts and actions

Mutual respect: you can develop solutions based on your collective insight, wisdom and creativity

Self-awareness: you take responsibility for your words and actions

Open-mind: you consider and welcome different opinions and insights

Open communication: the essence of collaboration; requires honesty.

This may sound ambitious but I truly believe these five elements form the core of good collaboration. If you think about past projects, you’ll realize they were the secret ingredients to your previous success. It wasn’t just because it was a good idea.

Ideas, strategies, plans, a roadmap are great, sure – but then you have to make it happen!

Let’s explore the everyday things you can do to make it more manageable, bringing results along the way. Daily practice is also habit-forming which makes things easier.

Even with people you don’t really like right now, these steps towards better collaboration will provide a perspective for accepting them in hard times, positioning you as the bigger person and earning their respect.

How to build good work relationships

  1. Clarity

Clarity is one of the ways you can show respect to others. Brené Brown who wrote the fabulous book “Dare to Lead” (that I recommend big time!) says being clear is kind. 

She says that “Feeding people half-truths or bulls**t to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind”. So true.

Open, honest communication is the best way to prevent conflict and misunderstandings. Even if you know the conversation will be tough – being clear requires courage and tough conversations. When you think about it, keeping people informed, even with unpleasant news, is an easy way to make them feel part of the team. Being left in the dark can lead to mistrust or anger.

Furthermore, clarity is a great way to ensure everyone is on the right page and doing the correct task. 

Clarity is having good communication skills which requires a high level of self-awareness. In my opinion, self-awareness is one of the most important qualities for good collaboration. Developing this is important for both your personal and professional life.

  1. Feedback

Feedback is usually perceived as an evaluation, a moment of judgment & stress.

Depending on our ambition and expectations, some may worry these feedback sessions could interfere with their next career move. We all have examples where one piece of negative feedback (or ‘point for improvement’) was used to prevent a long-awaited promotion or raise.

Companies usually make feedback very formal, provided by somebody with the power to impact your ambitions within the company. At some point feedback = money discussion. 

This system ruins the whole value of feedback.

Feedback is about learning and reiterating the importance of being humble and honest with yourself. 

Feedback sessions can be done with anybody in your team or company. As soon as you have to collaborate, you learn numerous ways to improve your work and attitude by asking people for feedback. This will often lead to giving feedback, too. Don’t be scared! That’s the game.

When you give feedback, be clear because you now know clear is kind.

If you are still a bit scared, Iet me tell you… people tend to automatically assume feedback will be negative. I understand why you dread that moment, but feedback is ALSO to give praise or positive reinforcement! It can be a really nice, rewarding moment for the energy you brought to the collaboration.

My advice is to set aside time for feedback sessions with your collaborators every now and then. The end of a project or after a common deadline is a good moment.

  1. Listen actively

In my opinion, listening is a key skill for collaboration. How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationships with others. 

People respond to those who truly listen to what they have to say. Focus on listening more than you talk. You’ll quickly become known as someone who can be trusted.

I recommend giving space to discussions so you can pay attention. If a topic needs to be discussed, make sure time is allocated and meet in a place where it’s easy to speak up. Show you are listening, interact with the person giving feedback without judgment.

Asking questions is really good, asking for confirmation of their point is also good. You want to understand what’s going on and respond appropriately. 

It’s not an easy exercise; you could be preoccupied, easily distracted because of a late night or bad mood… That’s why I recommend setting a nice scene to increase your chances of having a nice conversation.

This is important for the other person. This is respect.

If you can’t make it for whatever reason, reschedule for another day when you will be fully present. Explain you want to give the discussion proper priority and attention. 

  1. Don’t gossip

Have you ever heard the quote: ’Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People’?

Did you know the first topic people discuss when they get together is… other people? It’s what we do.

We are community people, craving acceptance. This old, tribal behavior is ingrained in our culture. We talk about other people. But gossiping is something else. You are not a bad person if you talk about someone else, as long as you respect that person.

Gossips are major relationship killers at work. 
If you’re experiencing conflict – with someone in your team, for example – talk to them directly. Gossiping about the situation with other colleagues will only exacerbate the situation, causing mistrust and animosity.

Gossip makes things worse and, frankly, it’s childish. You can do better!

  1. Empathy

Showing empathy is easy with people you like and can relate to. Putting yourself in their shoes. But it’s hard to be empathetic when you don’t really like the person in front of you, for whatever reason you don’t get along – it happens, we can’t all be friends. You cannot relate to their reality or way of thinking. 

In these situations I advise you to avoid making assumptions and have compassion. Give your coworkers the benefit of the doubt before passing judgment on their behavior or work on a project. Remember, this person has feelings.

If you really don’t understand the situation, or have a hard time accepting it, start a conversation. Ask questions and let your Active listening kick in!

  1. Flexibility

Shit happens all the time. Working with people inevitably means a lot of changes happening.

Planning changes, deadlines get postponed, people change their minds, people get sick, moody or sometimes enter a rough patch in their private life and can’t be 100% any more.

That’s life.

We all know life is not an easy ride AND we are not machines. It’s important to accept this and stay flexible with co-workers. We can all find alternatives and creative solutions if the plan changes. That’s teamwork!

  1. Show gratitude

We teach kids to say “thank you” for the smallest things; it’s politeness. However, this often fades as we grow older. 

Saying “thank you” shows gratitude. Even if you asked nicely, that person just did something for you, so don’t forget to thank your colleagues. Just because it’s their job, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a thank you.

Seriously, a “thank you” AND a smile can go a long way.

  1. Positivity

Positivity is attractive and contagious. 

People love positivity and enjoy being around it; it helps strengthen relationships with your co-workers. No one wants to be around someone who’s negative all the time.

So what if you are in a terrible mood and have to go to the office or a workshop where you need to discuss the whole day with your team? I say, positivity is a choice. Be a grown-up and don’t poison people with your bad mood. 

When I’m down, I like to warn my colleagues. We spend a lot of time together – they’ll notice anyway! By saying it, I avoid any personal feelings if my reactions are inappropriate or too negative.

We’re human, we cannot be at our best every day. They will understand.

  1. Celebrate

I like this part 🙂

All these hours working, producing, discussing, disagreeing, laughing, building, etc… At some point the deliverable, the project, the campaign – it’s completed.

As important as it is to plan feedback, celebrating the achievement is also very important.

Going to a bar, having a team lunch, organizing a team activity offsite – anything that says, “Congrats everyone! We did it, we’re a great team!” – is good!

You don’t have to pull out all the stops for every achievement… Sometimes it’s a small achievement and it’s nice to have a small “We did it!” team celebration. Cookies, breakfast or some bubbles is good enough to strengthen team spirit.

  1. Manage your boundaries

We all want to have friends at work. It’s fun and easier to feel good with great work buddies. 

But, occasionally, work friendships can impact our job, especially when a colleague begins to monopolize our time or headspace.

If this happens, it’s important you understand and focus on your need to establish boundaries.

Boundaries are a crucial part of keeping relationships mutually respectful. They help you look after yourself and those around you. In theory. 

In practice, many people struggle to establish boundaries for various reasons, including wanting to be seen as capable, reliable or an over-achiever… Basically, they can’t say no.

Be careful. This is the road to exhaustion, humiliation and pain, where somebody is always ready to take unfair advantage. Remember: boundaries and saying no lead to respect and trust.

I have to add an important note. 

Even following best practices, you may be in what you think is an inextricable situation with a colleague. Harassment is a reality, it’s forbidden AND against the law. 

Please talk to your manager or somebody from HR, there is nothing wrong with you, that needs to stop.

Voila! That’s the 10 best practices that improve EVERY relationship. 

It takes practice, but – as you know – it’s always a good moment to start!

I hope you find my tips useful; I look forward to hearing how you use them in your team or company.

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Amélie Beerens

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