Day-to-day working life is so often focused on meeting targets and deadlines, answering emails, and fulfilling your job role. Of course, these things are incredibly important particularly when the economy is struggling, and employers are finding it hard to stay afloat. But what about building relationships in the workplace? In these times of social distancing and working from home, is it really worth putting in the effort to connect to colleagues and get to know them better?

We think it’s never been more important! Right now, there are even more reasons why building strong relationships in the workplace is of benefit, not just to you, but to all of your colleagues.


What is a workplace relationship?

What do you define as a relationship? Can relationships at work be considered the same or similar to relationships we experience outside of the workplace? Do they carry the same weight or significance? To answer this question let’s start with a simple definition of ‘relationships’:

“the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other”

Going no further than this statement it’s clear to see that relationships at work are formed from the same basic moral foundations as all other relationships – how you regard someone and how you behave toward that individual. You spend a considerable amount of time interacting with work colleagues – sometimes even more time than you might spend with friends and family. Relationships at work aren’t just critical for getting a job done, they are a basic human need.

building relationships in the workplace

Did you know that people who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs? It doesn’t even need to be a best friend, as those who simply have a good friend in the workplace are likely to be more satisfied. And it’s not just your manager and colleagues that this applies to – good working relationships with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders are also important, feeding into a happier and more productive working life.


The importance of building relationships in the workplace

As human beings, we’re naturally social creatures. We need positive social interaction in order to function healthily. Building positive relationships may feel like second nature to some people, but for many, it can be a struggle and takes a little more time and effort. However, putting in that time and effort will certainly be worth it.

Consider for a moment how relationships at work might support your mental health and wellbeing:

  • Providing moral support
  • Through encouragement, building confidence to tackle something difficult or challenging
  • Offering guidance and instruction
  • Creating shared goals and experiences that can be discussed and analysed
  • Inspiring teamwork and collaboration – to solve problems or innovate
  • Creating a sense of empathy and mutual understanding
  • Driving you to reach for higher goals through supportive competition and challenge
  • Building trust, a sense of community, and camaraderie
  • Developing friendships beyond the boundaries of work
  • Simply having fun, de-stressing, and letting off steam!

When you look at it through this lens it’s surprising that building great work relationships isn’t at the top of everyone’s agenda!

Building and maintaining good relationships at work, however, is work in its own right. Rarely do individuals co-exist in perfect harmony – and for good reason. Despite how much good relationships benefit our mental health and wellbeing, there are lots of reasons why relationships can go off track or worse still, completely break down. Here are just a few reasons:

  • People are different – they arrive at work with different experiences behind them, different habits, different ideas, and views on the world – not least how a job should be done
  • They have different values and moral codes – what’s acceptable behaviour to one person might not be acceptable to another
  • People are naturally (if unconsciously) competitive and comparing
  • People want to be appreciated and valued – when they feel overlooked compared to others, friction can develop
  • Everyone learns differently, meaning a ‘one size fits all’ approach to inducting and developing people may not work
  • Everyone carries ‘unconscious biases’ formed from early experience and exposure to different situations. People may not even know the impact they are having on others because of these biases

If you are not focused on building good relationships in the workplace – or you end up in a bad relationship – it can have a negative impact on your job satisfaction, your development, your morale, and ultimately, your happiness and wellbeing. If this sounds familiar, you might want to check out our Not getting on with someone at work Notebook Mentor, to help you diagnose and resolve the relationship problem.

building relationships in the workplace

When you get along well with your colleagues, they are more likely to listen and accept any ideas or changes you want to implement, allowing you to express your creativity at work and make a difference. No one wants to be sat mute in a team meeting because they don’t feel comfortable speaking up and contributing. The better your working relationships, the more relaxed you will feel participating in group discussions and contributing to the wider business.

This in turn will mean that if you are having a difficult day or you’re having trouble meeting a deadline, you may feel comfortable enough to be open with your teammates about it and lean on them for assistance and support. This will only strengthen your relationship with them and the way you work together, whilst making your working life more manageable. Win-win!

So, what can you proactively do to make sure that you are building strong and positive relationships in the workplace?


Find the time to make connections

Sure, a good relationship may come naturally whilst carrying out tasks as a team and working on projects, but truly connecting with someone and getting to know who they really are often happens away from just the work conversation. With so many of us now working remotely due to the pandemic, we’re realising how valuable those morning coffee chats are upon arriving at work, and that little chinwag at lunchtime about what you’re doing after work.

Whether you’re working in the office or remotely, schedule some time to develop relationships and interact with your colleagues – either in person or via email, video call, or instant messaging. This could be during your lunch break or within the first 10 minutes of the day. If you’re hosting a meeting, perhaps you could allocate the first 5-10 minutes as an opportunity for everyone to catch up? Whenever the opportunity ends up presenting itself, divert the conversation away from work for a moment and check in with someone on a personal level.


Show an interest

When you are taking that time to chat with a colleague, try and ask plenty of questions and actively listen, as opposed to simply sharing information about you and your opinions. Being a good listener is a rare and valued trait, and if you can learn to truly listen to someone and take an interest in what they have to say, you’ll soon establish yourself as someone your colleagues can trust.

building relationships in the workplace

Take the time to ask someone about their personal life and/or professional goals. You might ask them where they grew up, what they did prior to this role, or even what they had for dinner! Even if someone doesn’t want to divulge too much information to you, you’re showing them that you are an open communicator, and perhaps next time they are having a difficult day and need a chat, you’ll be the person they come to for support.


Offer to help

Taking the burden off a colleague when they appear to be struggling is a great way to build a relationship. Be aware and look out for the signs that someone may be overwhelmed. If you are in a position to do so, offer to help them out. Being proactive and not just waiting to be asked proves that you are a true team player, and lets your colleagues know that they can rely on you to pitch in and help, even if it’s not necessarily your job to.

Similarly, when you are struggling and could do with an extra pair of hands, asking for help can also be a good way to initiate and strengthen a workplace relationship. It shows your colleagues that you value their opinion and trust their competency – plus, it gives you the opportunity to get to know them a little better.


Appreciate your colleagues

Whether someone has helped you get an urgent task over the line, or whether they’ve simply made you a coffee, make sure you let them know your appreciation. Most people don’t mind going out of their way for someone so long as it is appreciated, and a little genuine praise and respect goes a long way in developing good working relationships.

building relationships in the workplace

Perhaps at the end of each working day, take a moment to reflect on how someone has helped you with something, big or small. Make sure you let that person know that you are grateful for how they have helped and try and do something for them in return.


Be positive

Try and remain positive at work. People like to be around positive people and positivity is contagious. Instead of draining energy from your team with negativity, create energy, and boost your team with an optimistic, can-do attitude. Negativity can really upset the apple cart and create a toxic atmosphere that affects everyone, and even though negativity sometimes can’t be avoided, try and contribute to a positive morale boost when needed.

You can show a positive attitude through the words you use and becoming more of a ‘yes’ person, by trying to smile more and generally lifting your energy and demeanour. No matter how tired you feel on a Friday morning, try and enter the office or begin that video call with a big smile on your face and a positive energy that will pick everyone else up and make them feel better about the day ahead. Of course, everyone has down days and you can’t be brimming with positivity every day – and that’s fine. Be open and let your team know when you’re not feeling your best. They will probably appreciate your vulnerability and perhaps they can help.


What relationship-building requires of you

So far, so good – all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Just focus on the five tips above and you’ll easily build strong relationships in the workplace – right?

Well here’s where it gets tricky! It sounds easy to find time to make connections, show an interest in others, offer help, appreciate your colleagues, and be positive. When you are under pressure, working hard, distracted, or find you don’t get along with all your colleagues (for any of the reasons we’ve already mentioned), doing these five things can be a lot harder than you might think!

building relationships in the workplace

Building strong workplace relationships requires you to develop your emotional intelligence (EQ). Some people might have naturally high EQ – but this shouldn’t be taken as a given. Even if you are naturally curious and interested in people, when your own stress is out of balance, staying curious can diminish rapidly.

To build great relationships at work, you need to unlock and master your EQ.


Know yourself to become more self-aware

Being self-aware is not only about understanding yourself (your motivation, likes, dislikes, style, values etc), it’s also about knowing how those things impact other people. Even those with a strong sense of who they are will not be immune to misreading or misjudging situations. Self-awareness needs an ability to appreciate your personal foibles and weaknesses, as well as know your strengths. Those who are highly self-aware tend to hold a realistic picture of ‘who they are’ – both to themselves and to others.

Practicing self-awareness is one way of developing this aspect of your EQ. For example, identify a meeting where a number of your colleagues will be present. In addition to your general participation in the meeting, work on tuning into what each person is saying and how they are reacting to your contributions. Think about your own emotions and reactions. How does a particular individual make you feel? What does a certain conversation make you think? If you can, keep a track of these thoughts and feelings, jotting notes down in your journal or your Notebook Mentor.


Regulate your emotions

Basically, this means keeping yourself ‘in-check’ when working with other people. It’s not just about ‘staying in control’ it’s about establishing clear expectations within relationships – particularly how you will hold yourself to account. What measures of accountability will you work to? What particular moral code or set of behaviours will you uphold?

building relationships in the workplace

TIP: When you feel yourself disagreeing, getting annoyed, or wound up by someone, rather than rushing to conclusions or attacking them, try and work out if they might have different morals or values to your own. Could these differences be getting in the way of you building a great workplace relationship? Avoid any emotional outbursts, trying to speak as “I” rather than as “we” – speaking only for yourself, not for others. Stay in adult mode – being calm and objective.


Show empathy or tune into others

Being empathic requires you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. It helps you to further consider why someone might be acting a certain way and asks you to suspend your own beliefs (at least for a moment) such that you can appreciate what difference someone might bring to a conversation or relationship. Tuning in to others is particularly good for problem-solving and creativity because it helps you build on your own ideas, by genuinely listening to different thoughts and opinions.

TIP: Tune into someone by reading their body language – particularly hard if you are working over technology. Look for signals of different emotions – irritation, annoyance, frustration – as well as the positives, – support, agreement, enjoyment. Find time alone to put yourself in that other person’s shoes and write down what you see. Then check in with them to test the degree to which you have painted an accurate picture.


Build your social and relationship intelligence

Social or relational intelligence requires you to build effective relationships with other people, creating trust and commitment to each other. To do this you need to employ both persuasion and negotiation skills. Work to find common ground when there is a difference of opinion or disagreement.

building relationships in the workplace

TIP: You can build your social or relational intelligence by learning how to work with and manage people, lead something, or improve your communication. Take a look at our Notebook Mentors on becoming a 1st-time manager and what kind of leader am I? for more structured development on how to do this.

When creating a happy working life and a successful career, positive working relationships are not to be underestimated. The more you put into them, the more you’ll get back!

Elisa Nardi is the Founder and CEO of Notebook Mentor, journaling workbooks to help ordinary people manage, develop, and be happier at work. Sofie Tooke is a content writer and PR professional working for Auburn.


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