• Eve Arnold

Building Positive Relationships at Work

Learning about building relationships is the quickest way to win at work. Oh and it boosters your immune system.

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

“No road is long with good company.” — Turkish Proverb

By far and away the best thing you can learn early in your career is how to build relationships. How to get people on board and befriend them is the most effective and quite honestly, the nicest way to do things.

That isn’t just my opinion by the way. According to Heaphy and Dutton building positive relationships have such huge effects on the human body that they improve the immune system. Quite literally building better relationships makes you healthier.

Networking gets a bad wrap. Mostly because of the pretence around the whole thing. Making friends to say you’ve made friends with a certain person so you are perceived by someone else as a success. Eurgh. It’s literally the most snake oil salesman way of going about things.

The Balance

You don’t need to make friends with people to impress other people. However, there is a fine balance. Work is about getting shit done. We all know that in your job, most of the time you’ve got tasks to complete and you’ve got people that can help you along the way.

The simple math is to get people on board that can help you achieve what you want. Not in a sneaky, sly way. In a genuine, we all work for the same company, way. There is no secret that work involves collaboration and most things can’t be achieved on your own. So learning how to build relationships is key.

An organisation is a group of people working together to achieve the same goal. Some times those goals can be conflicting if two departments are trying to do fundamentally different things but most of the time there is a path to where we want to go. As a group we are aiming to walk it.

A Team

That’s the first thing to note. Everyone in your work place is on your team. It can feel like they are not sometimes but you are all part of the system, trying to build the same thing. You might have different opinions on how to get there but in the main, you are trying to achieve the same goal.

We were all very capable of making friends at school. I think it was about as simple as walking up to someone and saying:

“Do you want to be friends?”

If you got a “yes” then off you went to play on the swings or eat dirt. In work we tend to complicate things by adding fancy words to things. Networking is essentially just making friends. It’s just made more awkward by the word networking. It’s actually no more complicated than trying to make a friend.

So how do we make friends? In an attempt to revisit year 1, lets go through the step-by-step process of making friends and how we can apply that to work.

Ask About Them – Building Relationships

If there is one topic people love to talk about it is themselves. It’s the first and easiest step in building relationships. It’s human nature that our best, most knowledgable subject is ourselves. We know it so well (most of the time) and no-one (apart from your closest friends and family) can tell you you are wrong. The facts are fairly clear that not a lot of people enjoy their job. It’s the sad truth of the world we live in but the fairly harrowing report from Gallup found that only 15% of the world’s workforce is engaged at work. Not good. However, what it does mean is that you can use that to your advantage. Anything to make work more bearable for people is going to help.


How can you make it more bearable? Ask questions and let people talk to you about themselves. You’ll see their face light up when they talk about their favourite hobbies or fondest memories. It’s a sure fire way to make people’s day and get people onside.

Good topics of conversation are:

  1. Kids — People love talking about their pride and joy, most often that’s their kids.

  2. Hobbies — What people do in their spare time tells you a lot about their personality. Added to that because it’s the time they spend willingly on these things they are more like to talk at length about it.

  3. Holidays— What people do with their annual leave again is quite telling about their life outside of work.

  4. Passions — This one is the most intriguing. I love to know what people are passionate about outside of work, that could be their hobbies or it could be part of their daily lives. Some people you will find are madly passionate about cooking for example.

If you are new to work, or even not so new to work, this is the first step in building relationships — asking.

Listen Intently

The second part to building relationships is that we need to listen to what the other person is saying in order to make sense of what they are interested in. The end result here is to be able to hold a conversation with this person. So if you ask them about themselves and then you proceed not to listen, it’s perhaps the quickest way to make an enemy.

Don’t only listen to what people say, watch their face and their body language. People tend to get more animated the more they talk about their passions. You’ll know if they are really passionate about it because as they talk their face will light up and they’ll begin to smile.

Watch out for the smiles and the looks of frustration. This works both ways. Once you get them talking about something they really love and understand their reactions you can contrast it to the topic you want to get their opinion on. You will know whether they are on board with your idea or not because you have a proxy to how they react with things they really like.

Real Life

For example if you need help on a project, let’s say you are trying to get an idea off the ground and you need buy in. You meet this new person who you know could help and you get talking about their passion for horses. You’re chatting away and you can see this person is super animated about horses, you see the smile fill their face when they talk about their favourite horse and their childhood memories of learning to ride.

The conversation begins to steer towards your project and you begin to float this idea. Now you know this person has capacity to be totally animated about a topic — you’ve just seen it. So if now they are totally stone-faced when it comes to your idea, you know you’ve got some work to do.

Listening to how people talk about something they are hugely passionate about helps us understand how they work. It helps understand how they operate. That is hugely useful in a work setting.

Find the Things You Find Interesting

Hopefully along the way, the person you were chatting to said something that sparked your interest. Whilst it’s nice to imagine that every word that comes out of someone’s mouth is interesting, the likelihood is that isn’t the case. The more likely the scenario is that you will find a few things that spark your interest. This is good for two reasons.

  1. Things that peak you interest are easier to remember which leads me to number two.

  2. It’ll be easier to recall the next time you speak to them which means you are more likely to have a decent conversation.

People are full of surprises. I was once talking a chap at work and he surprised me with his love of gardening, not to stereotype but I never would have thought gardening would have been his guilty pleasure. Next thing I know he’s talking about the right time to plant carrots and bringing me onions in to test out for my dinner. That’s the wonderful thing about asking about people’s lives.

They surprise you.

I think it’s quite wonderful the amount of cool stuff that goes on outside of work if we care to ask about people and listen to their answers.

Use That Subject as Your Go To – Building Relationships

In three weeks time, when you bump into this person in the corridor or in the office, you can have a real conversation with them. One that has some depth to it. Rather than the same old conversations about the weekend, you can ask how they are getting on with growing their tomato plants or what their runner beans are looking like. It gives you somewhere to start with people and sometimes that’s all we need.

Using what you have learnt about them will teach them a couple of important things about you and how you work. The first thing is that you remember what people say to you and the second is that you care enough to remember it and bring it up. That will undoubtedly help you in building relationships.

So many people ask questions and don’t listen to the answers. It gets worse when people repeat what they said to you last time and you meet them with the same intrigue as the first time they said it. It gives people a sense of disappointment. It’s quickest way to tell people that you don’t care about what they are saying and that you only want to speak to them because there is something in it for you.

I am a true believer that work interactions are much better if you have enjoyable conversations. You get so much more out of people. More in terms of work yes of course but more in terms of depth and learning about people. More in terms of warming your soul a little. That’s the beauty of building relationships.

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