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How to Build Professional Relationships

Professional relationships are vital to the stability of your career. You don't need to be best friends with everyone, but good people skills are a must-have.
How to Build Professional Relationships

During your workday, you will interact with a variety of people. You may need to work closely with your teammates, discuss situations with your boss, and interact with suppliers and customers.

These individuals are sometimes referred to as stakeholders and could influence your success – or failure. The influence that these stakeholders have is not only relevant to your current career but could also open up doors to future career opportunities.

Having good professional relationships meets our needs for social interaction. It could make your work environment (and even your work) more enjoyable.

Having said that, it is not always clear how to build relationships at work. Read on to find out how to build professional relationships, how to maintain them, and how to fix them if something went wrong between you and a colleague.

Different Types of Professional Relationships

During your workday, you will interact with many different types of people. The primary relationships you will encounter in your work environment include relationships with superiors, team members or colleagues, and persons who are impacted by the work you do. Let’s take a look at some of these different types of professional relationships.

Transactional relationships: The first type of professional relationship is transactional relationships. These relationships have little interaction and interdependence.
They may also have a low level of familiarity. These could be acquaintances or persons with whom you only engage with on occasion. Examples of this type of relationship could be with the person who brings your mail or the IT technician who fixes your computer’s issues. The relationship is based on the transaction that occurs between the two of you.

Interdependent relationships: These types of professional relationships occur between people that have shared goals and knowledge.

These relationships are based on mutual respect. The individuals in interdependent relationships depend on each other to achieve a common goal. An example of this type of relationship can be seen between individuals in the product development and user experience teams in a company.

The project developer provides information on the product to the user experience team. In return, the user experience experts provide the product developers with feedback that is obtained from clients. Both individuals rely on the relationship and each other’s commitment to providing the client the best product or experience possible.

Transformational relationships: These professional relationships focus on nurturing a level of influence, mutuality, and vulnerability between the persons involved. People in transformational relationships show a higher level of interest in each other.

Generally, transformational relationships bring a distinct level of comfort and trust. Persons are open to sharing and engaging in difficult conversations for the betterment of the participants and the relationship.

Professional friendships: Professional friendships are quite common and can bring a lot of enjoyment to your workday. You will have different types of professional friendships, as you would with persons in recreational or social environments.

Some professional friendships will grow more profound than others, and researchers attribute this to something called ‘interpersonal synchronization.’ The crux of interpersonal synchronization is that some people have similar reactions (and brainwave patterns) to specific triggers. Your brains literally work the same – it is the embodiment of the common saying: ‘great minds think alike.’ This is a good thing in work settings.

Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm, has found that persons who had a best friend at work tended to be more engaged in work activities. In fact, as many as 63% of women who have best friends at work say they put more effort into their work.

Building Professional Relationships

Building professional relationships, like other relationships, takes work. It requires investment from both parties, and both parties need to understand the importance and significance of the relationship. There are a few things that you can do to build better professional relationships.

Connect with purpose

Since there are different types of professional relationships, it is only natural that we have different approaches to building professional relationships with different people. You are likely to engage differently with your best work friend than you would with a connection you have with someone because you are working on the same project.

When both (or more) people understand the importance of the relationship, they are likely to be more invested in growing and maintaining the relationship. This mutual understanding is fundamental, especially in times when difficulties or misunderstandings arise.

Work on your people skills and emotional intelligence

For some, interacting with people in different types of relationships comes easily and naturally. Others may need help to identify nuances, observe and set boundaries, and respond to specific social cues.

Developing people skills teaches you how to better engage with persons from different levels of professional acquaintance and how to handle specific situations like how to manage conflict, for example.

Expanding your emotional intelligence helps you learn to recognize and deal with your own emotions. A stronger emotional intelligence also gives you a greater ability to empathize with people in your work environment as you can better distinguish between your own feelings and the feelings of others.

Listen attentively and mindfully

Many misunderstandings could potentially be avoided by practicing active listening skills. When you listen attentively, you aim to grasp what someone else is trying to say. You could also rephrase or repeat what they said to confirm that you understood them correctly.

Maintain good boundaries

Whenever you are in a professional setting, you need to uphold certain boundaries and adhere to specific and acceptable behavior while building work relationships.

Since you will be interacting differently with different people with whom you are engaged in professional relationships, you will have different boundaries for each relationship.

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Setting boundaries at work lets each person know what acceptable and appropriate behavior in each relationship looks like.

For example, if you have poor boundaries with your best work friend, you may spend more time interacting with them and neglect your work. On the other hand, having extremely rigid boundaries could make you seem disinterested, cold, and aloof.
Strike a healthy balance in your professional relationships.

Make time to build professional relationships

Relationships take work, and therefore they take time and investment. Put some time aside to actively dedicate to people with whom you want to build a professional relationship.

This could include having a coffee break or lunch together. Video calls could help to maintain contact and grow the relationship if the person works in a different location than you. You could also keep the interactions going by doing small actions like commenting or engaging with the person’s content on social media sites like LinkedIn.

How to Maintain Friendships While Remaining Professional at Work

Maintaining good relationships at work can be tricky. It takes time and commitment, and you cannot always take a break from a work colleague if things get heated. However, there are some things you can do to preserve your professional relationships.

Respect yourself and your co-workers

The Cambridge dictionary describes respect as ‘politeness, honor, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important.’ It is about showing people that they matter, that you value them, and the role they play in your professional setting. By showing respect, you can gain trust and build professional relationships with your bosses, colleagues, and clients.

One powerful way to gain and show respect is to treat other people as your equal. This allows everyone in your work environment to contribute and feel seen and appreciated. It also opens the doors to productive discussions and sharing skills and knowledge in a safe and non-threatening environment.

Show empathy and appreciation

When you show empathy, you are telling the other person that you understand their feelings. You can see things from their point of view. 90% of professionals believe that it is essential to be shown empathy in the workplace. Many employees believe that companies that are more empathetic lead to employees being more motivated.

Similarly, being appreciated makes us feel seen. It gives us a sense of accomplishment more than what we get merely from performing a task. The easiest way to show your appreciation to someone is by offering your congratulations.

Avoid gossip and bad-mouthing others

Researchers found that people gossip for six different reasons. These reasons include finding out whether the information is correct, finding out more about a person or situation, building relationships, and protecting yourself. People also exchange gossip because they get enjoyment out of it or are negatively influenced to do so.

Although some of these reasons may be altruistic, the biggest reason why people gossip is to confirm what they heard about someone and then to find out even more. However, most people do not intend to harm the person that they are gossiping about. Instead, they use it to tweak the image that they have of the person they are gossiping about.

Although it may seem innocent to speak to someone in order to find out more about another person, it could lead to negative results.

Gossiping usually involves speaking about sensitive and personal topics. This could cause embarrassment and discomfort, especially if the person who is being gossiped about finds out. It could lead to mistrust and hostility. More than that, gossip is mostly hearsay and thus is not always accurate.

Employees who feel like there is a breach in a psychological contract between them and their employers are more prone to engage in gossip in the workplace.

This psychological contract is an unwritten understanding based on the expected exchange between an employee and their employer. When an employee’s expectations are not met, they are more likely to engage in gossip or bad-mouthing others, which could lead to them becoming cynical about their work and the workplace in general.

Be committed to the relationship

Misunderstandings will naturally arise in interpersonal relationships, as will difficult situations and emotions. The chances of overcoming these issues are higher when both people are committed to and understand the importance of the relationship.

Remembering that the other person is human and won’t always say or do what we want can go a long way towards helping to maintain an excellent professional relationship. It helps to remind yourself that the other person likely has good intentions. At the end of the day, it could be helpful to remind yourself that the relationship is more important than a disagreement or your fleeting emotions.

How to Repair Relationships at Work

Relationships are dynamic entities, and you may encounter instances where damage was done to the professional relationship.

This could be because of something you did, but it could also be because of someone else’s behavior. People spend more time at work than they do at home or in other social settings, and the quality of your professional relationships will influence your work and happiness. There are a few ways that you can repair relationships at work.

Address differences to find a middle ground

Part of maintaining good work relationships is addressing differences in a constructive manner. Conflict can arise in interpersonal relationships at work as much as it can in other relationships.

Approaching difficulties in a professional relationship involves addressing issues early. The best way to address differences in a professional setting is to focus on the issue at hand instead of turning it into an attack on the other person or their character.

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Emphasize that you value a good working relationship and work with the other person to find a solution that works for both of you.

Apologize and work on re-establishing trust

If a relationship is damaged, blaming and pointing fingers will usually get you more of the same. You can clear the air by having a conversation about what happened and the roles that each of you played that culminated in the breakdown of the relationship.

Apologize for your contribution to the situation and reaffirm that the relationship (and the other person) is important to you. Listen attentively and express yourself clearly and assertively while leaving your emotions out of the conversation.

Once everyone has had their say, and if both parties are willing to repair the relationship, you can work towards rebuilding the trust that was lost.

Interpersonal relationships in the workplace can flourish if the people involved understand the importance of the relationship, maintain healthy boundaries, and work at maintaining and fixing the relationship when needed.

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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