Building positive relationships
Welcome to the latest Personal Effectiveness blog. In this monthly series we cover some of the most important skills we can learn to become more effective in the workplace and in our personal lives. This month we explore how to build positive relationships at work.
Whether we like it or not, we all have to rely on other people to get things done, and this means that the way we interact with others has a powerful impact on how smoothly our lives run. If we struggle to develop and maintain positive relationships, there is a significant chance we will consequently struggle to reach any true level of success in our lives. It’s therefore vitally important to be able to work well with others; but building positive relationships isn’t just about people getting along and being civil to one another. It’s about creating a truly collaborative partnership, one that is mutually beneficial to both parties, where there is a genuine willingness to help one another without feelings of resentment. But in a society where we all feel some degree of competition with our peers, this isn’t necessarily easy to achieve. But is it possible, and all it takes is a little time to understand one another.
Essential elements of building positive relationships
One of the most common reasons people struggle to connect with others is the misunderstandings that arise when we interpret information based on our existing perceptions. The way we view life and events is not the same as the way other people do, so one of the most vital things to aim towards is creating clarity, and the only way to do this is by asking questions. If a colleague is behaving out of sorts, inquire why, or if someone hasn’t completed a piece of work on time, find out if there are reasons behind this. Don’t just assume you know why someone is asking something or why they’re behaving in a certain way. There are always extraneous circumstances that you won’t be aware of, but by asking questions the risk of these getting in the way is lessened. The questions don’t even have to be about a specific topic of concern; it’s also just as valuable to ask people about more general things like their life outside of work, hobbies and interests. This can shed an incredible amount of light on people’s views, perceptions and ways of thinking, and also has the added benefit of showing you are interested, which instantly creates a stronger bond between individuals.
Listen to people
It’s one thing to ask questions, it’s another thing entirely, to actively listen to the answers. People often assume listening is about hearing the words that a person says, but it’s actually more than that. It’s also about being aware of the tone of their voice, the body language they use and the words they say. All of this combined is what tells the true story behind what someone says. When you’re interacting with others, make sure you take time to consider all of these things, and don’t use every interaction as simply a platform for you to say your piece. As anyone who’s ever experienced it will know, being listened to is a very powerful thing; it connects people more than anything else because the listener understand the individuals and they in turn feel understood.
Understand the other person
This is something that can’t ever be completely achieved, but taking steps towards understanding others is hugely important. For those you interact with frequently, this knowledge will likely develop fairly quickly over time, especially if you take the time to ask questions and actively listen. But other steps can also be implemented, such as the use of personality profiles. These can help you identify some of the key traits most people embody, and while they shouldn’t be viewed as holding all the answers, they can be useful guides when trying to identify people’s preferences. There may be some things you can understand with a high degree of clarity, while other aspects of a person’s behaviour may continue to baffle you. The most important thing remains never to assume, if you don’t know for sure, it’s better to admit you don’t know and enjoy feeling curious, than to assume you know and consequently do something that may damage your relationship.
Reflect on your own behaviour
One of the biggest barriers for some people when developing positive relationships is recognising the impact of their own behaviour. Everybody is different, and we all express ourselves in distinct ways; but to create more fulfilling relationships with others, it’s vital that we are able to adapt to interact with them more effectively. Some individuals, for example, may be highly confident in themselves and very comfortable discussing personal matters with others; however this may not be the case for everyone they interact with. If they are unable to acknowledge this and subsequently adapt their behaviour to accommodate the preferences of others, they will almost certainly struggle to develop close relationships. The ability to demonstrate self-awareness and self-control is essential in effective relationship building, as it also demonstrates your consideration of others, and this is highly important. The use of feedback is key to developing self-awareness, understanding how others interpret your behaviour can offer highly valuable insights and if several people tell you the same thing, perhaps there’s a grain of truth to it. This is certainly not to say individuals need to change who they are fundamentally, but being able to adapt to different situations and be considerate of other people’s views is vital in making them feel more comfortable and as a result, allows for more meaningful interactions.
Give and receive praise freely
Praise is certainly important when working to build positive relationships; people love to receive praise as it reaffirms that what they did was good enough and recognised. It’s a form of verbal reward and being willing to offer it freely is therefore a good way of showing people you have noticed them and acknowledged what they do. But not only does praise create a good feeling for the individuals receiving it, it’s also a positive experience for the person giving it. Being able to both give and receive praise is hence very important to maintain good relationships; it helps to create a bond and demonstrate mutual esteem.
Some consider praise and recognition to be the same thing, but in reality they are very different, and it’s important to give (and receive) both when establishing and maintaining positive relationships. The effect of praise is short lived, and the feeling of elation quickly dissipates as it relates to a specific context (e.g. the work you did or cookies you baked), as a result, once that context is no longer relevant, the praise associated with it becomes irrelevant too. Recognition on the other hand is often more enduring, because it’s not about once specific thing that a person did well, it’s about the amount of effort they put in to do it, and the appreciation others have shown for that effort. Showing recognition for the efforts of others, especially if they are largely unacknowledged, will go a long way to building strong and positive relationships.
Working to build positive relationships with others is one of the most important aspects of creating a successful and meaningful life, both personally and professionally. Many of us already do the things above within the context of our personal lives, so it’s about learning to transfer that to the workplace, and where necessary developing the areas we may be lacking in. Doing so will make all elements of your interactions much more enjoyable, and even delivering bad news or providing negative feedback will become a more constructive process if it is occurring within the context of an existing positive relationship. It also helps contribute to greater collaboration, better innovation, improved productivity and overall employee well-being. Our relationships are an essential part of how we function as human beings, so it’s important we make them as positive as possible.
Thanks for reading February’s edition of the Personal Effectiveness Blog. Up next month: we explore the topic of resilience and its importance in the workplace.