While you might not necessarily develop the deepest emotional bonds with all of them, the relationships you have with the people that you work with can be some of the most important relationships of your life. Given how much time you spend at work, cooperation, collaboration, and communication can make or break your time there. If you own a business, your ability to forge good co-working relationships can even make or break the business. If you’ve been looking to improve those working relationships, what can you do?
Take the time necessary to earn their trust
If you’re trying to build good relationships with your employees, then you have to understand their perspectives. From the get-go, they don’t know much about you or your working attitudes, so it would be hard for them to guess whether they can trust you, your judgment, and how you will treat them under various circumstances. At the start, there is only the power differential and the potential consequences to them if they get on your bad side. As such, you should work to build trust with them first and foremost, such as by operating an Open Door Policy, or by taking the time to talk about their work now and then. You have to be the one to demonstrate the relationship of trust and communication first.
Don’t let your authority give you insecurities
You have to accept the fact that you’re the leader (providing that you are one) and even embrace the fact that you are not on an equal footing with your employees or your team members. As such, not only can you not expect them to treat you as “just another one” of the team, they also expect you to give direction and assume responsibility. You might feel self-conscious about being a leader at first, but rather than dwell on it or make excuses for it, practice “faking it til you make it.” Assume the confidence you would expect as a leader and make sure you don’t have any false expectations about your relationship with your workers. The respect you deserve will come with it.
Make time to get to know them
Trying to build working relationships while also trying to get your work done isn’t going to go well. You don’t want to be a distraction to colleagues who are trying to meet their goals. To that end, you should make sure that you make time to get to know them, to ask questions (within the bounds of comfort), and to build a sense of camaraderie. This can mean going out together for lunch once a week or even taking a trip for team-building exercises. What you don’t want to do is force them to take unpaid time out of their week to socialize outside of normal work hours. If you’re expecting people to attend outside of work, you had better be making it worth their while. They have lives to balance, after all.
Know the limits
This is important for workers of all stripes but most important for bosses. You might not see the harm in broaching certain topics and, indeed, you might not get challenged by others when you do. However, that’s not because they’re okay with it. It’s often because they’re afraid of challenging you due to the power differential. You have to know the topics that you need to avoid at work. This includes sex and romance, childhood family life, weight and body image, jokes at the expense of others, politics, and more. You especially don’t want to spend too much time on talking about past co-workers or employees that you didn’t get on with, as it sets the expectation that you will be equally critical of your current employees if they don’t please you.
Understand your own work boundaries
Of course, you have to think about what kind of relationship you’re trying to build, as well. A successful and happy work relationship isn’t always going to look the same. It’s not going to mean that you and your co-worker are on the same wavelength and already ready and raring to collaborate. Some people have different comfort zones that they work effectively in, and your Firo B results can better help you understand the comfort zone that suits you. Once you understand that, for instance, you prefer working alone but with easy access to help when you need it, you can begin to set up the channels that allow you that comfort.
Understand others’ work boundaries too
With that in mind, you have to apply the same level of understanding, or at least attempt at understanding, to your colleagues as well. There are few worse things you can do for an introvert who is most productive when they’re given room to work than trying to force them into a more communicative and open-working group where consistent collaboration is expected. You might not be able to tell what everyone’s Firo B types are (unless you encourage your team to take the test), but you can at least try to get a good sense of their comfort zones and try to recognize the signs of discomfort that could highlight when you’re pushing on boundaries that might be better left alone.
Communication is vital
Regardless of the comfort levels of individuals, and the form that it takes, communication is vital. There’s a difference between someone who is more comfortable working alone most of the time and someone who is unable to communicate with their colleagues. The latter is a problem. Look at the steps you can take to foster open and honest communication. This can mean having productive meetings every week. It might mean using communication software to manage conversations between groups. It might mean something different. Whatever the case, there needs to be consistency to your approach to communication in the workplace and you should make sure that everyone is reachable when they are needed.
This means listening, too
Because you’re the leader, the agenda-setter, and the decision-maker as far as the work, you shouldn’t let this sense of one-way communication affect how you treat employees and talk with them outside of communicating directly about the work. To that end, you’re not going to hold the trust of your employees for very long unless you are able to take the time and focus to listen to their answers and absorb the information that they provide. This means paying attention outside of when you need specific job-related responses from them.
There are too many bosses who are trying to be “the friendly boss.” Similarly, there are too many tyrants. Misunderstanding the role your authority plays, and how it’s actually a good thing to let it play that role, can ruin your relationships with your co-workers. While you should be yourself and don’t feel the need to hide emotions like amusement, pride, or concern for your co-workers, you should always operate within the expectations of a boss. To that end, being polite in the workplace does wonders to keep trust and to make sure that employees feel safe to come to you when they have problems. A little informality doesn’t hurt, but don’t lean into it too much. This plays into how you dress, as well. Appropriate work attire is critical for giving off the impression that you want, as well.
Don’t assume that “the boss is always right”
As mentioned, you tend to have the final say as the employer, or at least the boss, of your workers. To that end, it’s easy to develop the attitude that whatever you think is right. However, that is not going to develop good relationships with your team. Try to keep a learning attitude, assuming that everyone that you work with has something worth taking the time to hear. It’s often true, after all, as their position and their work experience will lend them perspectives that you don’t have, or haven’t had in a long time, at least. It also helps you make use of your team as the assets that they can truly be.
Be grateful and appreciative
Most of all, your employees want to know that their work is being recognized, especially when it’s making a significant difference. One of the most vital lessons for any employer or manager to learn is the importance of accepting responsibility but giving credit. You should make sure that you show gratitude, whether it’s a thank you email, a bonus gift on the company dime, or even treating them to lunch. Make sure that your gratitude is not arbitrary or biased, either. Have specific standards for when you should reward your employees. That way, you can’t be accused of only rewarding those that you get on well with.
Whether you want to run a business with a company culture that shares your values or you simply want to co-operate better with your team, your work relationships need work. Hopefully, the tips above can help you find the ways you need to start building on them.