How to Build Relationships in Work

Building relationships with key people and expanding our relationships to people of influence is a fantastic way we can enhance our reputation and progress our careers.

Our training sessions reveal that women and people from underrepresented groups can be great at building relationships with their peers, but sometimes neglect including more senior colleagues and management within their networks. There is often a tendency for these groups to focus more on social relationships with people they find interesting and likeable, instead of including senior management or influential employees. Consequently, opportunities can sometimes be missed because they weren’t aware, or didn’t know the right people1. Building and maintaining relationships with colleagues from all levels is a great way to improve our organisational visibility and exposure.

Why is it Important to Build Relationships?

Working with colleagues with whom we have a great working relationship can be much more enjoyable through improved morale, well-being, and trust. We’re more likely to collaborate within and outside our team, which can improve performance and reduce ambiguity on tasks2.

Our knowledge grows as we get to know colleagues across our organisation as we gain a wider perspective on a variety of topics. Working collaboratively can lead to a transfer of skills between more experienced colleagues and those who are less experienced3.

If we have questions, need support, or even mentoring on a skill or topic that we’re not confident with, we can look at who we have those existing relationships with and see if any of them can help us. Having existing relationships in place makes it much easier to approach that key person and gain the required knowledge and skills.

Read our blog on How Having a Mentor Can Help You Excel

Having relationships in place and a network that includes influential people can contribute positively to your organisational visibility. You may hear about potential promotion opportunities earlier on, be invited to conferences, or even be put forward for exciting projects. Being visible within your organisation and having great exposure means you’re more likely to be in the running when key decisions are made4.

Who Should We Aim to Build Relationships With?

We need to consider our career aims and what is required to achieve them. Who can support us? Who can advocate for us? Who can mentor us? Who has influence in your area of interest? By keeping these questions in mind, we can build and maintain relationships with people who can help us.

If we want to improve the visibility of a project or gain extra support, we need to consider who we can approach to build a relationship with and gain their advice. Start by analysing your company’s organisational structure to determine and highlight which people have influence or knowledge in the area you’re interested in. A visual approach to this is by creating an Influence Map which will allow you to visualise who the key stakeholders are in a particular area and how they relate to other people of influence5.

People in very senior positions often rely on advisors and people whose opinions they trust. If you have been building and maintaining a great relationship with a key stakeholder, then you are much more likely to gain support for your project or career due to the influence they may hold6.

Building relationships with a variety of people is vital, it’s easy for us to connect with people we like and those who we feel an affinity with. Our unconscious biases often subtly influence our people preferences so speaking to, and building relationships with those people who we wouldn’t normally helps us to understand the perspectives, experiences, and ideas of other people.

Read our blog on What is Diversity?

Exploring, understanding, and challenging our unconscious biases with kindness is a great way to ensure we’re more inclusive in our decisions and build a more diverse, psychologically safe workplace. Our Unconscious Bias Workshop is ideal for those commencing their diversity and inclusion journey, or wish to explore unconscious bias in more detail.

Read our blog on why psychological safety is vital

How to Build and Maintain Relationships

Attending company events such as conferences or roadshows and speaking to people is a great start. Whilst this can seem daunting, the simplest way is often to approach someone, say hello and introduce yourself, ask their name and find out more about their job. Learning to ask open-ended questions will improve the conversation flow7.

Following an event, it’s important to prioritise following up with the people you met. Connect with them on LinkedIn or contact them to arrange a catch-up over coffee. This will indicate that you remember them and value their connection. Take the time to nurture your relationships by showing you are interested and care about their point of view. The worst approach is to only contact that person in a moment of need8.

Reaching out directly during a holiday season, or if you see your connection make an announcement over social media, is a more personal approach than commenting on a post. Your direct contact is more likely to be appreciated and remembered9.

When catching up with your connection, ensuring you actively listen demonstrates you care what they have to say and value your conversation with them. If you’re unsure about what you’ve heard them say, repeating back what they have said to you is one of the best ways to confirm your understanding10.

We should not approach new relationships or connections with a one-sided approach; be authentic and provide support when asked. Communicating openly, following through on commitments, and being open-minded can provide the foundation for a strong healthy balanced relationship11.

Investing time, making connections, and building your network strategically is a significant aspect of your career. Including those we don’t know as well, or perhaps got off on the wrong foot with is vital12. Abraham Lincoln’s favourite quote, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better” is a great way to remove assumptions and make a truer assessment of someone we perhaps found ‘unlikeable’ in the first instance13. On further investigation, we may find the opposite to be true and the connection may build into one that is rewarding for both parties.

Our EMPOWER and THRIVE programmes dive into the importance of being visible in the workplace and provide essential networking tips. Our programmes introduce delegates to colleagues they may never have met previously, allowing new connections, relationships, and networks to grow and develop.

  1. 11 Helpful Strategies for Navigating Office Politics
  2. The Importance of Positive Relationships in the Workplace
  3. 8 Reasons Why It’s Important To Build Workplace Relationships
  4. This is why it’s important to network within your company
  5. 7 Ways to Use Office Politics Positively
  6. Influence Maps
  7. 21 Practical Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Networking
  8. How to Maintain Your Professional Network Over the Years
  9. How to Build and Maintain a Professional Network
  10. 11 Helpful Strategies for Navigating Office Politics
  11. 4 Ways to Build Stronger Workplace Relationships
  12. Office Politics Don’t Have to Be Toxic
  13. “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” Abraham Lincoln

Photo by Christina Wocintechchat on unsplash

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