Building Better Professional Relationships

11 Aug 2022

A good friend at work is the line between chore and dedication. Employees that sees themselves as a friend has a completely different outlook than someone that sees work as work only. Your engagement with your work relies on your own passion. But this is hard when working with people you do not get along with. There is difficulty in building professional relationships that exist in that sweet spot between personal and professional.

This is not to say that work relationships have to exist outside of the office. Professional relationships are often finicky. Compared to personal relationships, it has a boundary that should not be crossed without consent. It’s necessary to evaluate your personal boundaries and how you interact with others.

Foundational to this is understanding the three levels of self-identification: the individual, the interpersonal, and the collective. Each foundation changes how you are perceived or how you interact with others. With every level, there is a change in the source of motivation and self-esteem. Let’s look at how you may be able to strengthen your professional relationships through these levels.

Individual: The Unique Self

In building professional relationships, understand that you are interacting with an individual who is more than their work ethic. This identity is who you will be interacting with if you’re trying to connect with a coworker’s personality 

Here, self-esteem comes from comparison against other individuals. When we measure ourselves it is often based on the aspirations, skills, or traits against whoever we are interacting with. The driving motivator for this is of course, self-interest. This is the identity that seeks a raise or promotion every quarter, or that dreams of buying a house. 

The Ups and Downs of Work Talk

When interacting with a coworker’s individual identity, a strict boundary must be set. Daily “water cooler” conversations should go beyond work talk and dive into personal interests. You can try to keep interactions on a superficial level. You will be focusing on how the individual identity sees everyday things without going past that personal boundary. The sweet spot lies in an objective subject like movies, sports, or video games.

Asking for advice opens up room for good conversation and bonding.

People love to be asked for their opinion or advice. It is a chance for them to use what they have learned and their outlook on work or life. This can also segue into different topics that branch out to other conversations. Through this, you can listen to their insights or even ask for feedback.

Additionally, never give unsolicited advice. A large amount of our day is spent with coworkers. So, it’s important to be mindful and sensitive on topics we choose. There are just things we should never ask nor say in a professional relationship. Certain discussions like intimate relationships or finances might be fine with friends but not in a professional setting. Don’t be overly critical about certain things. Whether on ways to improve and get that promotion, or how they could speak better in presentations. Even if you mean well, this shows is that you are pinpointing the parts they lack in.

It’s not only you that will be affected in this damaging interaction. This will disrupt office culture and connection, and create unnecessary tension within what should be a productive space. So think twice and evaluate first before striking up a conversation. Keep in mind that the difference between good professional relationships and an awkward work life is two seconds of second guessing.

Interpersonal: Work Relationships

In an organization, roles are the basic building blocks of a large network of people. This does not mean staying in your place in a hierarchical role structure. Rather, it is contextualizing your interactions. For example, coffee with a coworker is entirely different from coffee with a supervisor. 

The main goal for the interpersonal identity is to establish connections or fulfill roles based on the nature of your relationship. So if your relationship is subordinate-supervisor, then self-esteem derives from fulfilling assigned work or giving/getting feedback.

Social Duties for Professional Relationships

There exists a middle ground between personal and professional bonding. It often happens in the morning before work or during lunch break. I know work can be draining, and it’s fine to take some time to yourself in a quiet place. But, it’s important to make an effort every now and then to join in or initiate conversations with fellow coworkers. This ranges from simple morning coffee runs, accompanying someone to run an errand, or having lunch during the break. 

Start the day right with a coworker coffee run to chat and connect.

During this time, you can bond or give complaints regarding the workplace. If you are colleagues, be sure to listen intently and offer to console them when necessary. As a supervisor, it is important to not develop an air of defense when a subordinate gives out grievances. See their words as valid and either try to solve their problem or find a happy compromise. 

Collective: Team Building

The last identity emphasizes the self as a typical member of a group. This is where you see yourself reflected in the success and cohesion of your overall team or community. Cooperation and member involvement drive the self-esteem for this identity. It places value on their input’s reflection in the overall product or production as well as if the product itself is successful. What the identity roots for here is open collaboration and feedback that is reflected in common success.

Celebrate Professional Achievements Together

Building a relationship with your team happens when you are together during happy moments. It’s best if a team celebrates their professional accomplishments together since it is your collective efforts that got you there. At the end of every quarter or when there is a new team member, it’s nice to eat out at lunch or after work in celebration. This shows that you care for each other outside of simply finishing a task. It opens for further conversation, light banter, and an overall sense of camaraderie between all of you.

Even if it’s not a team achievement and only one of you has gotten a raise. It is still nice to celebrate this milestone. It shows that you are invested and proud of each other’s accomplishments and take note of everyone’s individual hard work.

The Start of Building Relationships

Building your professional relationships better begins with simple things. Like remembering your coworker’s name and birthday or following up on something they had said before. A “hi” or “hello” in the morning can not only kick off the start of a good day but a working relationship as well. Having conversations away from office business or politics and establishing that you are not only there for them in business shows interpersonal and communication skills valuable in any office culture. 

Remember, none of this advice will work unless you begin to initiate conversations or get-togethers. Be the person that schedules post-work hangouts or recommends places to eat out during lunch breaks. It is through these small and simple but foundational things where you may branch out and start building on your professional relationships.