The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Cultivating Relationships
In The Workplace

Relationships are key to your success
and satisfaction at work.  
Are yours helping you... or hurting you?
Ask a hundred business experts about managing relationships in the workplace and you'll get a hundred different answers.  Some will tell you to be friendly and socially connected to your colleagues in the workplace.  Others will tell you to establish professional boundaries that limit personalization of relationships.  Answers in-between these two extremes are staggering in variety and complexity.  It's nearly impossible to sort through the clutter and find the right answer for yourself.

Relationships are complicated in every area of our lives, including work.  It's hard to know how to establish productive relationships in the workplace.  It's a challenge to manage the evolution of relationships over time.  Sometimes we feel great about the relationships we establish.  Other times, we feel regret.  Our relationships can help us be successful at work.  They can also be our downfall.  Here are a few questions worth contemplating:
How do you cultivate relationships in the workplace?   
How do you keep them healthy and productive over time?   
Can you be successful if you don't cultivate relationships?
These questions can be completely overwhelming.  The good news is that they get easier the more you think about them.  Taking the time to be thoughtful in this area contributes directly to your career success.  You're better at managing relationships in the workplace when you're intentional and deliberate in your approach.

Your success in nearly any role hinges on your ability to collaborate well with others.  If you need additional motivation to focus in this area, consider this:  research shows that job satisfaction increases significantly for people who have positive and productive relationships with co-workers.  Cultivating better relationships supports both your success and your satisfaction. 

Cultivating Relationships:  Top 10 List

Developing relationships, and keeping them healthy over time, takes work. For some, it comes naturally.  For others, it's more challenging.  Here's my best top ten list for how to cultivate relationships in the workplace.  This is based on my experience (both good and bad) and that of many others who have led by example (also good and bad) over the years.  

1.  Deliver results, first and foremost.

Colleagues in any work environment want to be associated with people who deliver results.  Before you try to build relationships with others, focus on yourself.  Know what's expected of you and deliver on those expectations.  Be worth the time others will spend getting to know you.  You may win fans with humor, entertaining misbehavior, or other antics.  Meaningful relationships, that matter and benefit you, generally won't materialize unless you perform.  It all starts with being someone that matters.

2.  Establish rapport with others.

Get to know your colleagues beyond a superficial level.  Watch, listen, and learn.  Understand their background, role, perspective, personality, and temperament.  Find common points of interest to establish rapport.  Identify points of potential conflict, so you can avoid or manage them. Take the time to get to know your colleagues better.  Your interactions will be much more effective.  

3.  Earn and give respect.

To build positive relationships in the workplace, you need to earn the respect of others.  Unfortunately, consistency counts, so you have to earn it over and over again.  People pay attention to what you achieve, but also how you achieve it.  Deserve and earn respect.  Equally important is showing respect for others.  If you struggle to respect a colleague, don't broadcast your perspective verbally or non-verbally.  Avoid being openly disrespectful in any way.  It reflects poorly on you, even if others agree your opinion is warranted.  This is a hard lesson to learn, but critical to cultivating relationships.

4.  Be a valuable resource.

Be someone who is willing to help your colleagues when you can.  Offer assistance when you see that someone needs it.  Be responsive when asked for help.  If you can't assist in exactly the way you're being asked, offer to help in another way.  Deliver on your commitments, so others know they can count on you.  This makes you an important relationship for others to maintain. It also allows you to reach out for help when you need it, leveraging your relationships in return.

5.  Be proactive and protective.

Show colleagues that you care enough to have their back.  Reach out to share information that will benefit them.  Help them avoid harm, by letting them know when you sense trouble is headed their way.  Let them speak freely with you and protect their confidences.  Give them feedback when you have observations that may be of value.  You can't always protect a team member, peer, or boss from negative business impacts.  Do it when you can.

6.  Show appreciation for support.

When others in the organization help you, let them know you appreciate it.  It's not always easy for others to support you.  Your team may work hard to achieve what you ask.  A colleague may go beyond the call to assist you.  Another co-worker may defend you, when you're not there to defend yourself.  Show your appreciation with a simple thank you or more as may be warranted.  Let them know you'd do the same for them.  Even small acts of kindness deserve recognition.  This builds good will with your colleagues.

7.  Clarify before you judge.

Miscommunication is rampant in every business environment.  People run fast and hard at their own responsibilities and often collide with others in the process.  To maintain positive and productive working relationships, try to clarify miscommunications before you jump to conclusions.  Most of the time, clarity helps diffuse emotional responses as you sort out the facts of the matter.  Sometimes clarity makes it worse, but give others the benefit of the doubt before you act or speak out of turn.

8.  Be tolerant of stress reactions.

It's said that stress brings out the worst in people.  That may or may not be true.  It certainly prevents people from moderating themselves the way they might under normal circumstances.  In any case, understand that sometimes people respond in surprising ways when under stress.  Try to be tolerant, take a breath, and accept that it's "stress" talking when things get heated.  Acknowledge it as such with the other person as needed, or simply give it time.  In any case, don't take it personally.  Work through the issue productively once the stressful situation settles down.

9.  Apologize when warranted.

Sometimes you mess up.  You say something or do something that wasn't your best option.  When you make a mistake, simply apologize.  The bigger and more visible the issue, the harder this becomes.  Trying to hide from it doesn't work.  Mistakes nearly always find their way home.  Own up to it, explain it as needed, share your plan to fix it, and apologize.  Some people believe admitting a mistake shows weakness.  To the contrary.  It shows confidence and accountability.  (Just be sure to make a different mistake the next time.  Repeats don't generally go over well.)

10. Don't be a threat.

Sometimes when you're assertive, you can be perceived as aggressive.  Most of the time, the nuance between the two is slight and you won't even know that you tipped the line.  The stronger your personality, the more likely you'll encounter this challenge.  This is particularly true when you feel strongly about a topic being discussed.  Be clear on your motives in speaking up, be conscious of your approach and tone, and avoid doing damage to others in public. Go into potential conflicts focused on being a positive and productive influence.  You're less likely to be perceived as a threat.

Implications of Forgoing Strong Relationships

I'll say again that cultivating relationships at work requires effort.  What if you don't want to put in the effort?  What if you don't care?  What if you don't like the people you work with or don't believe they'll be around long enough for you to invest in them?

Like it or not, relationships at work matter.  If you choose not to develop relationships with your colleagues, there are generally implications to your long-term success at a company.  If you're shy and keep to yourself, you may be forgiven.  If you treat some people with apathy or disrespect, you may be tolerated for some period of time.  If you treat everyone with disregard, your tenure will be short.  If you can't develop productive relationships with others, you won't be a long-term fit in your organization.  Even if you keep you job, you'll be shuffled around repeatedly and perceived as weak.

People often develop one part of their relationship network well and other parts poorly.  Perhaps you have great relationships with your leadership team, but not your peers.  Alternatively, you may have positive and productive relationships with your team and your peers, but not your leadership.  

If you have a long-term interest in being successful in your organization, you have to develop and cultivate relationships at every level and every type.  If you use the top ten list from above, you can strike the right balance in most cases.  At different times, different relationships will be more important than others to cultivate.  Over the long haul, though, you need to invest in all of them.

Remember that this isn't about building life-long friendships.  This is about creating productive, beneficial relationships with others so you can be successful in achieving your objectives.  The collateral benefit?  You'll experience greater job satisfaction and be more compelled to stay if you enjoy positive relationships with others in the workplace.


Cultivating relationships in the workplace requires a thoughtful approach. Don't let your relationships develop by default.  Be deliberate.  Be a strong performer and develop relationships with others who also perform.  Earn and give respect.  Support and watch out for your colleagues.  Know that sometimes people respond to stress and conflict poorly.  Clarify circumstances and give them time as needed.  Always apologize when you make a mistake.  Work hard to be an ally vs. a threat.

If you choose not to invest in a strong and healthy network of colleagues, your long-term potential within an organization will be limited.  That might be okay with you.  You may be surprised, though, how small changes in your approach can deliver big results in the quality of your workplace relationships.  If it increases your likelihood of success and your job satisfaction, what do you have to lose?  Success and satisfaction at work: sounds like a great combination to avoid eating your soul for breakfast.

My best to you.