Six Steps to Better Work Relationships

Now more than ever, professional success depends on how well you get along with those you work with. Learn how to take the "work" out of your professional relationships.

September 18, 2008
from Accountemps

In the team-based environment prevalent in today's workplace, it's no exaggeration to say that good relationships rule. Now more than ever, your professional success depends on how well you get along with those you work with, from top-level management to junior-level employees.

That means, whether you're a manager or a new hire, it's important to engage in ongoing relationship building with your colleagues. The collegiality and cooperation that results are the "grease" that makes day-to-day operations run smoothly and efficiently. Regardless of your rank or tenure, the following six steps may help take the "work" out of your professional relationships.

With Co-workers and Supervisors

Respect your colleagues' time and priorities. Cultivate an awareness of the demands and time constraints your co-workers face, and avoid interrupting or asking for assistance when they face an impending deadline or need to concentrate without distractions. If you're a team leader, keep in mind that no two people have identical approaches to managing time or organizing their workloads, so don't get frustrated if your colleagues don't do things "your way." Instead, try to leverage individuals' strengths by allowing them to handle their duties in ways that work best for them.

Take responsibility. Make it a point to honor deadlines and commitments. If you will not be able to complete your work on time, give your manager or the team as much advance notice as possible. Avoid making excuses (e.g., "Iím under a lot of stress") or passing blame (e.g., "So-and-so didn't give me the data I needed on time") and be prepared to offer a revised delivery date or alternative plan for meeting your obligations.

Remember that little things mean a lot. It's Etiquette 101, but in the rush of business, far too many people forget or forego the niceties. Words like "please," "thank you," "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" have tremendous power to defuse conflict and improve relationships. And on tense days, sometimes the best thing you can do is ask a co-worker under pressure what you can do to help. Remember, too, that even the boss appreciates positive comments and a verbal "pat on the back" now and then.

With Your Staff

Today's workers seek an informal, collaborative partnership with their managers. They want guidance without micromanagement, and they want to feel that their supervisor is accessible and willing to listen to their ideas and concerns. If you are a manager, you can foster this kind of relationship with your team by trying the following:

Increase your visibility. Try removing some of the physical and psychological barriers to greater interaction with your staff. For example, you might try keeping your door open when you're not making a confidential call or holding a meeting in your office.

Employees will also perceive you as more approachable if you increase purely social interactions with them. Greet people in the halls or the break-room and chat about topics that are not related to specific projects or the business in general. Make sure you attend monthly recognition days and other team-building activities. Let employees know that you welcome feedback about existing procedures and ideas for improvement.

Recognize and praise. You'll foster loyalty among your staff if you publicly recognize individual and team accomplishments and give frequent, sincere praise for a job well done. If your staff completes a project ahead of schedule or meets a tight deadline, for example, send a personal note of congratulations to each team member. When an employee completes an advanced degree or certification program, publicize the achievement via e-mail, the employee newsletter or the office intranet.

Similarly, be sure to extend your best wishes in person whenever someone on staff marks a major milestone, such as a wedding, birth or adoption of a child or their employment anniversary. These are simple yet powerful motivational tools that show you recognize your employees' efforts and appreciate them as people, not merely workers.

Make it easy to communicate with you. With the widespread use of intra-office e-mail and instant messaging, communication has become more casual. Many workers no longer schedule formal meetings with their supervisors to discuss projects, workload or other issues, but instead prefer spontaneous conversations. Encourage this approach by inviting employees to stop by your office whenever they need your assistance. Rather than relying on support personnel, take internal calls yourself and promptly answer e-mail messages from your staff.

Keep in mind that some workers may find it intimidating to meet you on your "home turf," so consider going to their workspaces for a change, or convening in a neutral area, such as a conference room or even in the hallway. In any case, don't always wait for employees to come to you. Check in with them periodically and ask if they have the resources and support they need to perform their jobs.

With just a little extra time and effort, you can strengthen the ties between you and your colleagues, and between staff and management. The good will, camaraderie and solid relationships that result will make everyone's job easier and more enjoyable.

Accountemps is one of the world's first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.