Strengthening relationships at work

‘I don’t like that man very much, I must get to know him better.’ Abraham Lincoln

Strong relationships make the world go round.

Strong relationships with our families and friends, our colleagues and leaders, our customers and suppliers, our governance and communities. We rely on strong relationships with others in every facet of life. The better quality our relationships, the more likely we are to work well with others and live alongside them and achieve more together. This is known as our social capital.

However, sadly, the quality of relationships is often only really apparent when they are under strain. We’ve all been there I am sure – for example we think we have a good relationship with our team-mate but when it comes to supporting us during a difficult time, they let us down.

Now of course we can carefully curate some relationships. Entire departments are set up to do this – sales, marketing, communications. But real relationships are genuine, authentic and often messy.

In general, the development of a relationship generally follows the same pattern:

  1. Firstly, we seek to develop a connection with the other person. We talk about the weather, find common ground.
  2. The better the connection, the more engaged we become with that person. The more likely we are to actively seek out conversations with them to engage with them further.
  3. As the relationship develops further, you begin to have an influence over that person and they have one over you. You become influenced by their opinion and wants and needs and view of the world. You start to see the world differently because of them.
  4. If you take the relationship to the next level, you begin to collaborate with that person – do things together for mutual benefit, actively seeking to partner with the other rather than compete with them, taking their view of the world into consideration as you work with them.
  5. And then it moves to initiative, where you actively do something to benefit the other person off your own initiative. Just because. For example you take your loved one a coffee in bed without being asked. Because you can, because they like it and because you care about them and delight in their delight.

Relationships can also go the other way, and regularly do. It’s often only when they are tested that we really know how good they are.

And yet positive working relationships make a huge difference in organisations. The quality of your relationship with a client or supplier can make the difference in contract renewal. The quality of your relationship with your peers dictates how good communication and innovation is. The quality of relationships with your team is what delivers true high performance. Together they make positive work cultures, which are more productive, more innovative and safer than toxic ones.

We all need to work on strengthening relationships all the time. Soft skills are a learning journey – nobody is perfect!

The secret sauce that underpins all our relationships is communication. Not just talking and writing, but listening and reading and body language and context and emotions and all the other things we take in when we communicate. To improve our relationship with someone, we need to communicate with them more, get to know them better as Abraham Lincoln said.

Firstly we’ll take you through how to measure these relationships; your social capital. Then we’ll talk about how you improve relationships, one conversation at a time.

If you would like help doing this across your organisation, well that is where we excel :). Programmes like Speak Up? and Lean In are designed to do this very thing, either culturally or for a specific team. Get in touch if you’d like our help.

Back to blog