“I don’t go to work to make friends” says the employee who is spending half of his day browsing LinkedIn and SEEK for his next opportunity. “My next job will be different – I just don’t like the culture here”, he declares as he searches for his fourth job in as many years.
The truth is, forming positive relationships with your colleagues is one of the absolute keys to enjoying your work and getting the most out of yourself. Culture is the responsibility of everyone involved in the business – from the CEO, down to the temp staff member who is there for a week, and everyone in between. It’s true that you don’t have to be friends with your colleagues, but focus on making your interactions positive and you’ll find yourself enjoying work a lot more.
So what does a positive working relationship actually look like? Here’s my opinion.
It’s diverse: If you’re employed by a large organisation, chances are you’re working alongside people of a variety of different ethnicities, religious beliefs, ages, genders, sexualities, physical capabilities and more. Take my workplace for example – at Clicks, two thirds of our staff were born outside of Australia, and 22% of our staff are aged 45 and over. This means that our offices are filled with a variety of different opinions, perspectives and experiences – being able to embrace the differing views and collaborate with people who, for one reason or another, are very different to you is key to innovation and informed decision-making in the workplace.
It’s honest: A healthy working relationship is an honest one. You and your colleagues should be able to exchange feedback in a truthful way without fearing a negative response – this builds mutual respect and trust, which permeates through your future interactions and helps foster a productive, professional rapport. Additionally, if you are a leader, it is important for you to encourage honesty in the workplace, both as a benefit to your business and to your employees.
It’s respectful: Speaking of respect, a positive relationship is not possible without respecting the identity and importance of each of your colleagues. Everybody—regardless of their position—makes their own unique contribution to the organisation. Eliminating a sense of superiority based on job title is crucial when establishing a connection at work.
It’s fun: Above all, you should be able to have fun with your workmates! Remember you’re spending around a third of your waking hours per week at work, so why not make your exchanges enjoyable. If you can’t have the occasional laugh at work, you’re in the wrong job…or, you’re just not trying hard enough to have positive interactions with your co-workers. Here are ten reasons why humour is a key to success at work.
So that’s what a positive working relationship looks like. How do you get there, though?
Establish common ground: As unlikely as it may seem, you will likely share at least one common interest with every co-worker you come across. Sport is a great conversation starter – you might not support the same teams, but chatting about the weekend’s football games is an easy one…unless that person is a Melbourne supporter like myself. In that case, steer well clear. EDIT: after writing this, Melbourne qualified for the finals for the first time in 12 years, so feel free talk about footy until your heart is content!
Take an interest: How many times have you asked a co-worker “How was your weekend?” and then proceeded to continue walking past their desk when you just get “good thanks” in return. This is an unfortunate norm in the workplace, but I’m guessing that you’re getting those scant responses because the person you’re asking doesn’t think that you actually care how their weekend was.
Next time you get a one or two-word reply, ask the person “So, what did you get up to?” By showing a genuine interest in what your colleague gets up to outside of work, you’re suggesting that you care, an important step in forging a friendship. You don’t even have to go as far as being friends, but by starting a dialogue with Fred from Accounting, you’re taking steps to forge a positive working relationship. You never know, Fred might also help you with your tax return in the future. We like Fred.
Show appreciation: Recognition is a key motivator for many people when it comes to their professional life. A simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way if a colleague does you a favour – why stop there, though? If someone goes above and beyond to help you out when you’re in need, don’t be afraid to send around a group email letting your colleagues know how much you appreciate that person’s hard work. An action like this requires maybe 30 seconds of your time, and the boost to that person’s morale could be substantial.
If face-to-face interaction isn’t for you, consider the new age form of flattery and endorse the person’s relevant skills on LinkedIn – your call.
Be positive: This is a big one. People want to surround themselves with positivity, especially when they’re at work. If you’re that person who’s constantly cursing at their desk, throwing things in anger or visibly not having a good time, chances are that people aren’t going to line up to come and say hi (especially if there are office supplies flying around the room!)
Lunch/coffee: Sometimes, simply going for lunch or coffee with a co-worker is all you need to start getting along. At a previous workplace where I witnessed cultural issues stemming from strained interpersonal relationships, I suggested and helped to implement a non-mandatory lunch roster. This involved employees taking a different colleague out for lunch on a Friday each week. I fondly remember my experience with this initiative – in the first week, I took my least favourite colleague out for a parma (never parmi) and promised myself that I would give ‘getting along’ a shot.
Four years later, we continue to be extremely close friends. You never know, had Frank Grimes and Homer Simpson went for lunch, this might not have ever happened.
Friday night drinks: Alcohol won’t make you friends, but getting out of the office with your co-workers and seeing them in a more relaxed environment could be what you need to form a more positive relationship. I’ve found that people tend to let their guard down in social situations like this, allowing you to have conversations that you wouldn’t otherwise have at work, thus helping you to build trust in each other.
These are just a few of the many strategies you can employ. Remember, culture starts with you. It is impacted by any interaction you have with any colleague on any given day. You may not want to make friends in the office or onsite—and that’s okay—but start making your interactions more positive and you’ll find yourself much happier at work.