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Four Keys to Building Strong Work Relationships

Most work environments require interacting with others. Some people view these interactions as separate events they must endure and others view them as enriching, ongoing relationships. The truth is, you get out of your work relationships what you put in. If you are totally independent in your work environment, not requiring anything from anyone, then you don’t need to read any further. But, if you’re dependent on others, then you need to learn how to build strong work relationships.

There are four key behavior traits that contribute to building strong relationships. You need to be trustworthy, care about the other person, be committed to excellence in your performance, and bond through adventure. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Be Trustworthy
It is important for you to do what you say. When you commit to something others listen and then watch. They want to know if you can be trusted to deliver on your commitment or if you will just blow it off. When delivering something will you deliver it as requested and on time or will it be incomplete or late.

Others also want to know if you are going to attempt personal gain at their expense. They will watch how you go about getting things you want, looking for methods or actions that take advantage of others. Even if they are not involved, it will be a tell tale sign that they need to watch their back when working with you.

Care About Them
People want to know if you care about them as a person or see them as an object, a means to an end. No one wants to be viewed as a resource for someone else’s consumption. They want to be known as a unique individual with life experiences, emotions, and a choice in their work demands. Showing someone you care about them requires showing respect regardless of their position in the company and gaining general knowledge of who they are and what they like and dislike.

In practice this means scheduling a meeting or conversation instead of just dropping in or calling. If you can’t schedule in advance, do not interrupt an ongoing conversation, politely wait and then ask if it is a good time to chat. Before you discuss any business ask them about their personal life. When you are first building the relationship, ask general questions about their past and current experiences. Topics could include family, hobbies, vacations, pets, past jobs, etc. As time goes on, you can ask more specifics questions, but wait until you sense trust developing between the two of you.

Another way to show you care is to reflect back the information you receive. If Sally tells you she has a big vacation starting tomorrow, then make sure you ask her about it the next time you see her. If Bill tells you his dog died, don’t forget about it and then ask him if he took his dog to the park two weeks later.

Commit to Excellence
Very few people like to work with low performers. You can’t help but get a little slimed from someone else’s deficiencies and poor results. Working with a person like this can require twice the effort and time of a competent worker. This is why your work attitude and quality affects your work relationships. Committing to excellence means showing initiative and not waiting for someone else to point work out to you. Having a can-do attitude signals you are not afraid of a challenge and that you will carry your weight when times get tough. Remember to be thorough and complete when you declare something finished. This will not only make you pleasant to work with, but it will also inspire others to follow your commitment to excellence.

Bond Through Adventure
Adventures are not all good or all bad; they are a mixture of both. In a work environment they are always experienced with a group of people, and have a general beginning and end. Adventures never kill us nor take us to nirvana and they usually have a central theme. In our personal lives adventures may be vacations, kids sports teams, neighborhoods, community efforts, etc. In work environments, they may be projects, departments in transition, recessions, building moves, working with a very difficult person, etc. Adventures almost always develop deeper bonds because they are shared experiences that we get to survive together, laugh and cry about, reminisce about, and to some extent relive the emotions again.

The key to reaping the benefits of bonding through adventure is by creating adventures in your day-to-day work environment. This starts with identifying the themes of your group adventures, highlighting the highs and lows you experience, acknowledging things will change and the adventure will end, and enforcing the group experience of it.

Each of these key behaviors requires multiple interactions over time to make a difference. There is no pill you can take to instantly have strong work relationships. In the beginning, ten good interactions may take you a level deeper in your work relationship with someone, but one bad one will set you back a level. Over time grace becomes more a part of your relationships and good and bad interactions become less pivotal to the relationships strength. Strong work relationships will not only make you more productive, they will make you a lot happier too.

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