Build better workplace relationships

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The famous economist John Maynard Keynes thought that one of our biggest challenges in the 21st century would be leisure.

In 1930 he expected that within a century the West would be working 15 hour weeks, populations would be rolling around in free time, finding new ways to enjoy life or just getting bored.

Yet while Western nations have increased their wealth five times over, our work patterns have intensified, we’re spending more time not less with our colleagues, despite advances in flexible working. Meanwhile, financial and political crises have left us uncertain of the present and stressed about the future.

So how do we conduct and develop strong workplace relationships in such an environment?

“Most of us spend more time with our colleagues during the working week than we do with our own friends and families, so it’s important that we have the type of relationships with our colleagues that encourage us to be productive and happy at work,” says Karen Young, a director at Hays Accountancy & Finance.

Unfortunately, all too often ineffective communication gets in the way of good colleague relationships, says Lisa LaRue, a career coach for CareerWorx. “The best workplaces encourage and invest in regular, ongoing communication and interpersonal communication skills training for its staff. If your workplace doesn’t offer this kind of professional and personal development, it’s worthwhile being proactive and developing these skills yourself.”

And while effective communication is key to building better work relationships, fundamental to being a good communicator is developing your EQ, ‘emotional intelligence’, or the ability to understand and manage emotions, in yourself and others. “Improving our EQ, has been found to improve communication, strengthen teams, increase creativity and boost productivity,” says LaRue.

Having EQ is no miracle cure, however. The development of the core competencies of EQ (see below) does not mean you’ll be able to change the behaviour or personalities of other people, yet it can help you avoid situations and resolve conflicts, enabling you to deal with difficult colleagues and challenging relationships more effectively, says LaRue.

“Wherever you are in your career, there are ways to develop strong relationships with your co-workers,” says Young. “Whether you work in a small accountancy business or a large corporate firm you need to be proactive in building a rapport with your colleagues in order to develop a supportive and productive working environment.”

Recruitment expert Young’s top tips

Be appreciative: Showing genuine appreciation goes a long way to help how you’re perceived by your colleagues. So make a point of thanking your team and people around you for their contributions, especially on big projects, not only will they return the courtesy but they’re more likely to help you next time.

Show your enthusiasm: Discussing a common interest is the quickest way to progress effective work place networks. Aim to come across as a positive person who’s passionate about what they do and your colleagues will soon pick up on your positive attitude. At an appropriate time of day, find out what makes your colleagues tick, take an interest in their projects and understand their ambitions.

Be yourself: Take the first steps to forming genuine relationships by being confident enough to let your personality show. It’s important that your colleagues understand your preferred working and communication styles. Revealing these characteristics of your personality to your colleagues will help you to develop an open and collaborative way of working as a team.

Keep an open mind: There are many personalities that you will meet in the workplace. Keeping an open mind will help you to navigate a workplace full of different personalities and working styles. You might find there are some people with whom you might not see eye-to-eye on certain projects, so stay open to their point of view, if this clashes with yours be proactive in finding a compromise.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, describes the five elements of EQ as:

  • self-awareness
  • self-regulation
  • motivation
  • empathy
  • people skills

Practical ways to boost your EQ include:

  • self-reflection
  • communication skills development
  • learning to manage your emotion
  • coaching
  • mentoring

Photo: Mike Copping, financial controller for digital agency CyberDuck and trainee accountant Yalda Nabi, both have AAT qualifications. Mike says, “We provide fully funded AAT courses with a local college and allow flexible working hours to support studying and exams.We provide an above average salary and also allow annual leave to sit exams. Most importantly we never refuse a question at work and encourage engagement with areas that are perhaps more ‘senior’ than their current role.”

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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