Nine Ways to Build Strong Relationships at Work

I’ve worn many hats over the past 20 years – student, wife, manager, executive. But the experience that has taught me the most comes from my role as mom. With my youngest graduating Kindergarten and my oldest soon starting high school, I am often asked by others what my “secret” is to raising well-behaved, attentive kids in this fast-paced, always “on” world we live in.

My answer is always the same: I’ve learned that my kids often forget what I say, but they never forget how I make them feel. It’s not the number of times I say “I love you” that matters; it’s the old-fashioned, seat-in-a-chair time I spend listening, helping, communicating, engaged – present – that does.

This idea of being “present” transcends into the workplace as well. Regardless of age, what people want most is to feel valued and heard. Despite the changing world and technological advances around us, this is Human Behavior 101. It was Terry Pearce, former UC Berkeley professor and author of Leading from Within that first said, “People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

That wisdom has become transformative in the way I operate both at work and at home. I admit, I didn’t always have this mastered. I spent way too many years multi-tasking too many things to “go fast”, not truly listening to my team members, hurrying people in and out my office so I could get on with my responsibilities.

It wasn’t until my oldest son questioned my carefully planted “umm hmms,” and “I see’s” during an important conversation – “Mom, it feels like you haven’t been listening to me!” – that I paused and reflected.  Rightly so, he felt devalued and unappreciated; things that a parent never wants his or her child to feel, and things I didn’t want my colleagues to feel either. I knew I had to change.

Though putting this behavior into practice takes time, I can tell you the returns are worth it – especially the engaging, trusting, lasting relationships being built at home, and at work. Slowing down and focusing on others has also helped me become a more peaceful person. I get great satisfaction knowing that I purposefully take others’ feelings and viewpoints into account, whether with my family, colleagues or clients. I get great satisfaction knowing that I purposefully take others’ feelings and viewpoints into account, whether with my family, colleagues or clients. Though I’m certainly not an expert, the following daily practices have helped me. Has something worked for you? Please email me to share your thoughts or best practices on the subject so we can keep the conversation going!

1. Focus on the art of listening. 

Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It is being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond. In some ways, the way we fail to listen is symbolic of the way we live. We often treat communication as if it were a race; like our goal is to have no time gaps between the conclusion of the sentence of the person we are speaking with and the beginning of our own. Be conscious of this and refrain from talking over another. You’ll see that the conversation naturally slows down because you aren’t in competition for “airtime.” Plus, everyone loves to talk to someone who truly listens to what they are saying.

2. Use more than words to get across your message. 

Experts have concluded that as little as 10 percent of the impact of your spoken message is carried by the actual words you use; 40 percent is carried by your “vocals” – tone, inflection, emphasis, volume. More than 50 percent of the impact from your spoken message comes from body language: eyes, face, gestures, posture. Use this knowledge to make others feel comfortable and encourage conversation. For example, maintain eye contact and smile; use others’ names in conversation; open up the circle of conversation by physically stepping back and allowing others to join in.

3. Reinforce positive conversation.

Though you may be reluctant to acknowledge an astute or insightful remark during a conversation, don’t be shy about telling someone when he or she is right. Spontaneous tributes make others feel good and show how alert you are. Try, “I like the way you put that” “I wish I had said that!” “It’s so true” “Would you mind repeating what you just said? I’d like to write it down.”

4. Be honest with yourself and with others, and own up to your mistakes.

People who lie or cover up mistakes lose credibility. Demonstrate through words and passion that you have done what you think is best. At the same time, do not be defensive. Act with honest confidence, even when you admit mistakes.

5. Say “Thank You”. 

One of the most meaningful things we can do for others – and one that costs nothing – is to simply say “Thank you” when others have done something worth noting. A simple and sincere thank you can go a long way toward building motivation and commitment. Don’t get too busy to acknowledge others and share these important words.

6. Watch your casual remarks. 

Even casual remarks play a role in the image you project. Avoid saying, “I’m too busy.” It may be true, but you’ll come across as someone who doesn’t care. The paperwork can usually wait, but you can never get too many chances to show others that their questions and opinions are important. If you’re in the middle of a genuine deadline, then consult your calendar and say, “Let me reserve some time for you…”

7. Stop using “you” when you really mean “I”. 

Whether you’re at a party, a meeting, or speaking to a team member one-on-one, watch your pronoun use. Instead of making a general statement, like “You just can’t expect that to work,” own your language and instead say, “I don’t expect that to work.” Using “I” holds you responsible for your opinion and removes any hint of accusation.

8. Use praise. 

Studies show that few of us get – or give – as much praise as we should. Try starting your next meeting (or family meal) by asking each person to give specific praise about one other person in the room. Instead of simply recognizing someone for a “good job,” zero in on details: “I appreciate you working through lunch to meet that deadline.”

9. Rethink email. 

Ask yourself one simple question before hitting the “reply” button: “Would a two-minute conversation be more effective?” While email is fast, it’s not always as effective as a quick chat, especially when nuance or urgency is critical to the outcome, and the relationship.