How to build good work relationships and why they matter

with better work relationships two team members enjoy their work in stress-free environment

Building good work relationships is one of the best ways to become more productive, enhance your collaboration skills, and create more opportunities for yourself.

Even if you're more introverted, or you're in a role that doesn't require much social interaction, you still need to build and maintain good interpersonal relationships. They affect your ability to work as part of a collective, but most importantly, to really enjoy your work.

Having good workplace relationships makes working life easier and more fun. With others supporting you, you'll be able to face problems and figure out your next steps with less trouble. Looking to get promoted? Need advice on a tricky issue? With a strong network made of healthy workplace relationships, you'll be able to call upon others that care about you and want to see you succeed too.

So here's what you need to know about building and maintaining good work relationships.

Table of contents
What are the different types of work relationships?
Understand culture to build better work relationships
How to build better relationships at work

What are the different types of work relationships?

There are different types of positive relationships you can have in the workplace. How you develop these depends on the dynamic between the two of you.

With some, you'll be more relaxed and casual in your interactions because there's not much at stake. Others will have you adopting a more formal persona, watching what you say when you're within earshot of certain people.

These different dynamics are highly influenced by company culture: the shared values that make up the general attitude and vibe of your workplace. Some organizations might have a culture of micromanaging, some might be super laid-back and just let you get on with things. You'll have to use your judgment to figure out the best way to navigate your various team relationships.

To do that, you'll need to identify what your link is to the other person. There are occasional exceptions, but here are the general types of workplace relationships you'll have:

  • Coworkers: This is the most common type of work relationship. These are the colleagues that you're on a mostly equal level with: members of your team or department that you're in frequent contact with every day.
  • Superiors: These include managers and people above your hierarchical level within the organization - for example, co-founders, owners or others in leadership positions.
  • Subordinates: this group consists of everyone lower down on the organizational chart than yourself, including those that report directly to you.
  • Friends: These are the people you'd happily meet up with outside of work. They might be those that you have lunch with or trust enough to confide in, knowing they won't share your private info with the rest of the company.
  • Office spouse: This is a particularly close friend who you only encounter at work, but voluntarily spend a lot of time with. Despite being platonic, this professional relationship can be seen as problematic. Strong personal relationships can gradually become romantic relationships – be careful to keep it strictly within the bounds of the work environment.
  • Mentor: A mentor is someone who you can go to for advice and guidance on work-related matters, but who you don't directly report to. This relationship, whether official or not, focuses on professional development.

Understand culture to build better work relationships

It's only after recognizing the different types of workplace relationships that you'll be able to strategize and cultivate them appropriately. The lines defining these are sometimes clear and sometimes blurred, though, and the fuzziness of company culture makes it difficult to navigate.

If your organization has a low power distance, it means there's not much difference between management and employee: open communication is frequent, and opinions of the employees are listened to and taken on board. In contrast, a high power distance means the hierarchy is a steep one: management has almost all the decision-making power in the company, and directives trickle down through a rigid organizational structure.

This has a significant bearing on building positive work relationships. If there's little difference between levels, it'll be easier to get along with everyone, as the social dynamic is more relaxed and less formal. In contrast, if people are more mindful of their hierarchical level in high-power-distance orgs, they're not going to take kindly to you trying to be too friendly or familiar with them.

This is why it's important that, before anything else, you understand the culture of your company. You'll have to take a good look at how people communicate, avoid conflict, and work together. It might take a little observation, but soon enough you'll figure out how things work.

So now that you've got a better bearing on how your company's interpersonal dynamics work: a mix of company culture, your position within that organization, and generally accepted social etiquette. With those in mind, it's time to work on your relationship-building.

How to build better relationships at work

You will have to personalize your approach towards developing your relationships with specific people, but some general principles will help you whoever you're talking to. Here are some of the most effective ways to create better working relationships.

1) Listen more than you talk

Open your ears! Cultivating your listening skills will do far more good for your work relationships than learning to say the right things.

Active listening is a critical part of effective communication. This means paying attention properly, being aware of what the speaker is saying, and processing it without drifting off. It's about listening with the intent to understand, rather than just thinking about what you're going to say next. It's a simple tactic that can dramatically improve the quality of your conversations, and it'll make people want to talk to you and open up more.

2) Respect people's time and energy

Everyone has their limits. There's only so much mental and physical energy we have each day, and putting demands on others means you'll deplete their valuable reserves – even if you enjoy a really positive interaction.

This is especially important with the mentor type of relationship. Busy people with lots of responsibilities will still be open to helping you, but only to a certain extent. If someone's gracious enough to lend you their time and expertise, show them respect by not demanding their attention too long – no matter how much of an enthusiastic student you are.

3) Develop your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is an evolution of the now-unfashionable IQ (intelligence quotient). EQ is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself, as well as other people. Having a better grasp of your EQ means you're more socially aware and can better understand the complexities of social dynamics.

The good news is that emotional intelligence isn't fixed - it's a learnable skill. One option for learning is our own Fingerprint for Success increase EQ coaching program, a chat-based coaching program which you can dip into twice a week for around 10-15 minutes.

It's a super valuable way to improve your interpersonal skills, and over the course of a couple of months, you'll learn how to read people, understand vocal nuances, and deepen your connection and rapport with your coworkers.

4) Be proactive with partnerships

You can't just sit back and expect a working relationship to blossom. Instead, take the initiative and show interest in whoever you want to bond with.

If your desk is near someone that you don't work with directly, why not go over and introduce yourself? You might find you have something in common, whether it's personal or professional, and you could find yourself with a new friend. Every new person you meet is another node in your network, and gradually expanding it with positive workplace relationships will open more and more doors for you.

Being visible isn't always enough - get out there and make new connections. People will appreciate you making the time to get to know them.

5) Don't complain too much

While you shouldn't feel afraid to speak up when you have a genuine reason to complain, if you're constantly moaning to your colleagues about workplace stress or your lack of job satisfaction, you're going to bring down the mood. People don't like to hang out with complainers because it feels like a burden to shoulder their grievances, and it saps the energy of those forced to listen.

A little bit of grumbling about work is pretty standard between colleagues. It can actually bring you closer together - moaning about work is satisfying when you're off the clock and shooting the breeze at the local lunch spot. Just keep it appropriate and don't share sensitive information with anyone, even if you've got a particularly strong relationship.

6) Embrace uniqueness

Have you ever heard of cognitive diversity? It's a term that refers to the differences in how people take in information, process it, and make decisions. It comes from the variety of life experiences, culture, education, and career path that someone has.

If your organization has good cognitive diversity, it means that your team can bring a variety of perspectives to a problem that needs solving. It's a great attribute because it stops you from getting stuck in blind spots, and improves the collective ability of the group. On a personal level, it means you have to understand that some people will have different approaches and opinions to you - and that's fine.

Being open to differing perspectives can be a little challenging, but it can massively help with overall group cohesion and building relationships.

Improve your work relationships with our chat-based coaching program, Increase EQ, which only takes around 15-minutes a week.

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