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Thursday, 30 May 2013 02:59

Think the workplace isn't about making friends? Think again.

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If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times:  "I don't care if [co-worker/subordinate/colleague] doesn't like me - I'm not here to make friends.  I'm here to make money."

While it's true that you don't have to be - and probably shouldn't be - best friends with the people you manage in the workplace, the reality is that it's hard to make a lot of money if everyone you work with thinks you're a jerk.  Take a look at the most successful people you know, and you'll see that 95% of the time, those people are experts at building positive professional relationships.

Why are good relationships so important?  For some roles, good relationships have obvious benefits:  Salespeople, for example, do best when they are adept at building positive, long-term relationships with almost everyone they encounter.  They'll sell more when they develop strong relationships with their clients; they'll get better access to those clients when they develop friendly relationships with their clients' gatekeepers (such as receptionists, assistants, etc.); and they'll have better success at keeping those clients when they build good relationships with the people responsible for post-sale customer service within their own organization.

But cohesive relationships deliver benefits to people in non-sales roles, as well - and in all kinds of ways.  Good relationships mean:

  • Your initiatives are more readily championed by people outside your department
  • Your particular area of expertise is accorded more respect within the organization (this is particularly valuable for roles in areas like HR or marketing, which are often not taken seriously by counterparts in the purchasing or finance departments)
  • Your subordinates are more willing to go the extra mile to support your initiatives or goals
  • You're more likely to get promoted because you're perceived as a 'team player' who can build consensus - and get things done

...all of which contribute to your stated goal of 'making more money'.

(Yes, there are some independent geniuses who manage to become successful despite having difficulty building positive professional relationships.  But how likely is it that you're the next Steve Jobs?)

So how can you ensure that you're building good relationships in the workplace, without spending your whole day chit-chatting with co-workers?  Just follow some simple guidelines:

Understand how you're being perceived.  I've worked with many people who think they're well-liked by co-workers and subordinates - but who are actually regarded as being aloof or overbearing.  You may think that your refusal to join the team for a Friday lunch makes you look like a hard worker, but the reality may be that it's making you look like you don't like anyone you work with.  Ask a trusted colleague or two for some honest feedback.

See the other side.  The best investment you can make in building relationships is to take the time to see the world from others' point of view.  Before you dismiss an idea or proposal, consider where the idea is coming from.  Is it possible that the person putting forth the proposal is seeing things from a new - and different - perspective?  Taking the time to put yourself in someone else's shoes may yield a fantastic insight or opportunity.  At the very least, it'll make you look like the kind of person who is interested in others - and that's an excellent way to build relationships.

Positive feedback is more effective than negative confrontation.  Almost everyone works better - and harder - when they feel they're being appreciated rather than horsewhipped into compliance.  Criticism doesn't deliver better results, and it doesn't provide the opportunity for the kind of positive interactions that lead to strong relationships.  And a sincere 'thank you' for a job well done will be remembered for longer than you think.

Be generous.  Doing a favor for a colleague today - whether it's spending a little extra time to put together some numbers for a project they're working on, or agreeing to provide a college reference for their son or daughter - may not deliver an ROI in the short term, but are the building blocks of a strong long-term relationship that can deliver tremendous benefits down the line.

Remember, your career is a long-term endeavor, and your professional world is smaller than you think.  Investing in positive relationships is a little like making sure you save a little bit of your salary every month:  it doesn't seem like much on a daily basis, but over time it adds up and makes a huge difference.

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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