Struggling with your colleagues? How to get the best out of your work relationships

Published 27 June 2014  |  
Luca Baroncini

Most of us spend more of our time relating to people at work than with anyone else in our lives including our loved ones. Healthy, inspiring and strong relationships with our colleagues can make even the most tedious job seem more interesting. On the other hand, difficult, draining and tricky relationships can cause us to dread going to work even when we have a dream job.

So, whether you are the boss or a team member, how can you make sure that your relationships are as good as they can be? Here are ten tips on how to build and maintain great work-based relationships.

1. Appreciate differences. It can be tempting to want everyone to behave or act like you. But be thankful that they don't. Great teams are made up of people with different personalities, skills, strengths and experiences. If you want those differences to be a source of celebration rather than conflict, be aware of your own limitations and appreciate what you can gain and learn from others.

2. Take responsibility. Pull your weight and don't leave others to pick up the pieces. If something goes wrong, be the first to admit your part, apologise and put it right. If you are the boss, lead by example and model the kind of behaviour that you would like to see in others.

3. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't expect people to guess what you are feeling or thinking. If you want something done a certain way – explain it clearly and check you've been understood. If you are upset, confused, stressed, or in need of help – let someone know. Don't suffer in silence. It is only likely to get worse.

4. Practice great listening. You offer others a great gift when you take time to really listen to them without interrupting, giving advice or jumping to conclusions. Whether it's a customer, a colleague, a subordinate or your boss – give them your full focus and attention. People will feel like you 'get them' if they have been truly heard and understood.

5. Understand your impact. How do people react when you enter or leave a room? All of us leave an impression on others for better or worse. The easiest way to discover yours is to ask for feedback. Bosses particularly need to be aware of how they come across because their character, perhaps more than anything else, will dictate how others perceive their leadership.It is also likely to shape the organisation that they lead.

6. Encourage others. When you encourage someone, you are helping them to reach their potential. Everyone likes positive feedback whether they're the boss or the office junior. So, if you are thankful, impressed or appreciative, speak up. But be sincere – false flattery doesn't work.

7. Deal with conflict. The secret to dealing with conflict is to have the right conversation with the right person, in the right place and at the right time. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, calm down first. Take time to listen and understand their point of view and be clear when you explain yours. And whatever you do, remember to say the last and most important ten per cent – often that is the bit we shy away from expressing and later regret.

8. Get personal. Take an interest in those around you – especially if you are the boss. Remember people's names and details about their lives. Follow up on conversations that you have had about personal matters and show support when needed. Celebrate birthdays and major milestones. If you are hopeless at remembering details, keep a written record. You may also want to consider praying regularly for the people you work with and asking God how you can encourage and bless them.

9. Get curious. Get to know people over a coffee or lunch especially if they are someone you find difficult. Discovering what makes them tick might just help you understand and deal with them better. Getting curious can be a great help when others act in a way you find hard or hurtful. Instead of jumping to conclusions get curious about why they acted in the way they did. Try starting a conversation with the words: "I'm curious..." and keep an open mind as you listen to them.

10. Replace expectations with agreements. A great deal of problems at work materialise because we have unspoken expectations about how others should do their jobs or behave. None of us can mind read and when expectations are not vocalised it can lead to frustration and misunderstandings. Try discussing expectations with colleagues and then create a verbal or written agreement. The agreement can then be reviewed or re-negotiated if and when it needs to be.

I surveyed more than 1,000 people for my book. Only 20 per cent said that they always respected their boss, which leaves quite a few that don't. I asked people what qualities they most wanted in a leader and the answers that came up again and again were integrity and honesty. These were closely followed by fairness, vision, humility and trustworthiness.

I believe the answer to being a great leader or work colleague is the same: to be authentic. If you can be the best version of yourself and allow others to be the same – yours will be a work place where people don't just survive but thrive.

Sarah Abell is the author of Inside Out – How to have authentic relationships with everyone in your life. You can follow her on Twitter at @nakedhedgehogs

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