The best ways to build stronger relationships at work
Building stronger relationships at work is an essential skill for today’s legal professional, especially if you work as an independent lawyer. At Obelisk we’re passionate about being #humanfirst in all our business dealings. What sets our most successful consultants apart is their ability to build meaningful professional relationships quickly. To find out more about how we can all do this better, we spoke to Guy Lubitsh, Professor of Practice at Ashridge Executive Education/Hult International Business School, organisational psychologist and author, with his sister Tami Lubitsh-White, of new book Connect: Resolve conflict, improve communication, strengthen relationships. Here are Guy’s top five pieces of advice for those looking to build stronger relationships at work.
“We need to take care of each other, and our survival as humans depends on our ability to prioritise collaboration.”
#1 Carry out a connections audit
Most of us, when starting a new project, will prepare by thinking about logistics, the skills and resources we need and the time constraints, but how many of us are consciously thinking about the relationships we need to be successful, and more importantly, the quality of those relationships? Making this a conscious “to do” at the start of every project helps to identify any gaps that could cause a project to derail. Ask yourself:
- Who has a stake in this work being successful?
- Who do I need to work with to meet my goals?
- How can I build common ground?
- Where I don’t have a good relationship with someone, why is this?
Mapping out a network of contacts can help you design practical next steps. These might be as simple as leveraging existing connections for introductions. Or they could be more complex. You may need to establish trust, credibility or rapport with new people. You may need to rebuild a damaged relationship or work with someone that you don’t naturally gravitate towards.
#2 Understand your connection preference(s)
Based on years of clinical and organisational practice, Guy and Tami have designed a model of the four different types of connection preference:
- The Director – focuses on getting things done
- The Facilitator – interested in building harmony
- The Specialist – motivated by data and quality
- The Innovator – spurred on by new ideas and building new things.
To find your preference, fill out the questionnaire here.
Understanding how your intrinsic motivation feeds into your relationship-building can help you identify strengths but also where your preference might be getting in the way of building a successful working relationship.
#3 Understand how different connection preferences interact
Once you understand the four main types and your own preference, you can start to see how the different sorts of connector interact, and how to use this insight to improve your ability to influence. For example, if you have a strong Director preference, then when you’re working with a Facilitator place a greater emphasis on building consensus rather than determining actions quickly. If you’re working with an Innovator, present next steps as new ideas. And to build rapport with a Specialist, exercise patience in understanding their need for deep understanding of the detail of your work.
Similarly, Guy points out that we all have elements of the different types within us. So as well as flexing our style to build rapport with others, we also need to learn to manage internal conflict. For example, a Director who also has a Facilitator preference may feel torn between making a rapid decision and wanting everyone else on a project to be happy. Appreciating this clash can help you to rationalise your behaviour, avoiding it impacting on your performance.
Finally, if you’re in a position where you are building a team, you may want to think about how you create an environment free of judgment where people with different preferences have the space to work together. If a team has too high a concentration of one type, then they may inadvertently create internal stress around them, so encouraging a diversity of preferences and opinions is important.
Joining a new team, particularly if you’re joining remotely, means that you have to build up a picture of different colleagues’ preferences quickly. Guy recommends:
- Asking existing contacts for advice, ie “How does Sarah like to operate?”
- Asking new contacts upfront how they like to work, ie “Do you prefer email updates or a call?”
- Setting out your own preferences upfront, ie “I like to see progress so I’ll share an action list after our meetings, is that OK?”
#4 Embrace and resolve conflict
Guy advises always seeking to handle conflict upfront, rather than trying to avoid it. Together, he and Tami have devised a model called RESOLVE:
- Realise reality
- Establish clear boundaries
- Seek support
- Own it!
Particularly when working remotely, it is easy to perceive difficulties that aren’t actually there, or make incorrect assumptions, so checking the reality of a situation through open dialogue is even more important if you aren’t office-based.
It can also be harder to access support when you work remotely, so Guy advises developing relationships within your network to help you when you need it, and be generous with offering help in return.
#5 Work harder on connections in the virtual world
There’s no doubt that building connections is harder without opportunities to meet face-to-face. If you can, make sure you maximise the potential to connect whilst working remotely by:
- Making time for small talk
- Sending complex information ahead of time
- Picking up the ‘phone, rather than emailing.
One of the advantages of working from home as much as we have over the last 12 months is that we have been able to see more of each other’s lives outside of work. Try to celebrate unexpected interruptions and embrace the opportunity to learn more about colleagues and clients. Remember that working remotely can also amplify feelings of anxiety, so make time to regulate your emotions and be mindful of your mental health – find tips from other Obelisk consultants here.
A final note
Even before the pandemic hit, 68% of managers and leaders reported loneliness impacting on their mental health. Whether you’re working leading a team or as an independent lawyer, embracing the emotional as well as the transactional aspects of work can help to counteract that loneliness, leading to a stronger and more fulfilling working life and more professional success. As we say at Obelisk, being #humanfirst makes sense for people and for business.
Watch a recording of our conversation in full here.