Many people see working relationships as one of the biggest perks of a job. It’s easy to develop close friendships with the people you see in your workplace every day, and navigating these relationships in the right way can bring about a lot of career benefits, as well as making your time at work much more enjoyable.
Effective working relationships with colleagues are also an important part of working productively. They can be a key part of some people’s career progression, along with being incredibly important to a harmonious working environment in industries like hospitality, where employees work closely together.
In this article, we explain some of the best ways to build and maintain effective working relationships, along with discussing the benefits of these.
A working relationship is a relationship that you have with a colleague, employer, or work client. This may involve a personal friendship and close connection, or may just be a professional relationship that doesn’t extend outside of working hours.
Working relationships tend to be formed with the people you see and work with regularly as part of your job. The key difference between this kind of relationship and a regular friendship is that in a working relationship, your behaviour should always be informed by your role as an employee first, and then your position as an individual.
Building effective working relationships requires a range of skills and qualities, as well as putting in the effort to maintain a connection with your colleagues. Here are some of the best approaches for building effective working relationships.
Respect is the foundation of any good relationship, professional ones included. Showing respect is one of the best ways to build effective working relationships, no matter your position in the company and the positions of the people around you.
Respect involves listening to others, appreciating their input and point of view, using empathy to understand where they're coming from and finding common ground that you can connect over. At work, showing respect means treating all of your colleagues with the same level of politeness and openness regardless of their level of responsibility and how you work together.
The ability to build and maintain effective working relationships relies on being proactive. If you’re passive about forming connections at work, you will eventually get to know your colleagues and foster surface-level relationships with them, but these won’t be the kind of useful working relationships that we’re talking about in this article.
You need to be proactive about getting to know your colleagues and seeking opportunities to work together to strengthen your professional relationship. This might involve making the effort to speak to someone new each week or offering praise to someone you’ve not spoken to before, actively organising social activities or arranging meetings to lay the foundations for strong connections.
Reliability and trustworthiness are traits that are very desirable in colleagues, so delivering what you promise at work is a great way to build better working relationships. By consistently showing that you can get work done on time, complete your designated tasks and even go above and beyond to help other people out, you’ll be seen as a useful person to have a professional relationship which will encourage more people to reach out.
This is also a good trait for maintaining existing workplace relationships, as you’ll increase trust by showing you can do what is needed and letting your colleagues know they can rely on you.
There’s nothing worse than a colleague that’s always looking at the negatives of a situation. Productive and healthy working relationships tend to be built on positive interactions and experiences, so practising positivity when you’re at work is a great way to improve your professional interactions and make friends with more of your colleagues.
Toxic positivity isn’t always helpful, but trying to be bright and optimistic at work will also gain you a reputation as someone enjoyable to be around. Staying positive also tends to make you more proactive about fixing problems and overcoming challenges, which again will improve your reputation and attract more people to you.
This suggestion for how to build effective working relationships with colleagues goes two ways. The first is that if you want to establish effective relationships at work, you need to put aside time to work on these, especially to begin with if you’ve just joined a new team and want to form good connections with everyone.
The second is that making time for your colleagues, where appropriate, is one of the best ways to maintain working relationships and be seen as helpful and reliable. There will always be times when you’re busy, but being able to take a few minutes to speak to a fellow employee or offer help if you can makes a big difference to your workplace relationships and demonstrates that you’re a good person to be friends with.
Leading on from that point, a key aspect of successful working relationships is offering support to one another. Whether that’s emotional support as a listener or practical support with a task, you will develop stronger connections with your colleagues if your relationships are built on mutual offers of support. You can facilitate these kinds of supportive relationships by first offering help where you can and building up trust and gratitude like this.
If you want to establish working relationships that you can rely on, you need to be consistent and reliable yourself. This is a really important part of establishing trust, and once you’ve made connections where your colleagues trust you, you’re going to have more productive and rewarding working relationships.
Being reliable is also a quality that people admire, so you’re likely to make more friends at work if you can prove that you’re good at what you do all the time and can be called on to offer help when necessary.
Earning the trust of your colleagues is one of the best ways you can build effective working relationships. This is something that takes time but is relatively easy to do, as long as you are consistent with your performance at work and demonstrate that you can take on additional responsibilities without neglecting any of your other tasks.
Trust in a working relationship also involves understanding what to do with the information that is shared with you. There will be instances at work where you may be told something that can only be shared between a select group of people, and demonstrating your professionalism by adhering to this is another way to build trust with your colleagues.
Communication is one of the most important aspects of building effective working relationships. Without it, you won’t be able to connect with any of the people you work with, so developing your communication skills is one of the biggest things that will help your relationships at work.
Clear communication means being able to get your point across, successfully share information with others and also demonstrate that you have understood what you have been told. Having good communication skills also involves being able to adapt your tone for different situations, showing that you can switch between casual conversation with your colleagues to speaking professionally and maturely to customers or clients.
Professional relationships can be hard to navigate when it comes to setting boundaries. Some people will be happy to form close, personal friendships with the people they work with, whilst others will want to maintain some distance in order to keep their job and their personal life separate.
Having boundaries doesn’t mean that you can’t also have effective working relationships. You just need to decide how much information you’re happy to share with your colleagues, whether you’ll spend time outside of work maintaining these relationships, and any particular boundaries you want to communicate.
Once you’ve established these, you can develop professional relationships that are fulfilling and productive without feeling drained.
Finally, an important piece of advice to remember when building working relationships is to avoid what is known as ‘office politics’. This refers to any issues, events or opinions that circulate in the workplace about certain employees, and can range from mild complaints about performance to serious grudges or exclusionary behaviour.
You will likely become closer to some of your colleagues than others, but it’s important to remember that you should always be an employee first and not let any of these relationships affect the work that you do. If other people try to get you involved in office politics, it’s always best to stay as removed as possible and not offer your opinion unless absolutely necessary, as this will help preserve your relationships with everyone in the company.
Building effective working relationships has a range of different benefits. These include:
As well as the benefits we have outlined above, one of the biggest reasons that effective workplace relationships are so important is that they lead to more efficient work. If you’re comfortable with your colleagues and understand how best to communicate with and motivate them, teamwork is much easier and work gets completed faster without any complaints from those involved.
Good working relationships are also important because they make people happier when they’re at work. You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues, but if you’re pleased to see them and spend time with them, work will be a much more enjoyable experience.
Building workplace relationships can also be an important method of progressing your career and making a name for yourself in your industry. The more people you know, the more opportunities are likely to come your way, and if you’re well-liked by the people you work with then your colleagues are much more likely to talk you up to other people they meet and ensure you’re known as a great person to work with.
Working relationships can be roughly categorised into four different groups. These are individuals and their friends and family, colleagues and managers, people from other workplaces, and volunteers or community groups.
One of the most important skills needed to build relationships is communication, as this allows you to get to know people, offer them help and advice and develop meaningful connections through conversation. Other useful skills and qualities include empathy, respect, honesty, positivity and active listening.
Building relationships at work is an important element of feeling like part of the company, which massively increases your enjoyment of your job every day. Having professional relationships with the people you work with also makes collaboration and teamwork easier, and in environments where you’re always working alongside one another, like a hospitality setting, this is very important for efficient work.
No matter the industry you work in, your relationships with your colleagues are a key part of the job. Understanding the best ways to form meaningful and useful connections is a great way to improve your experience at work and potentially advance your career, as well as help to make things like teamwork and collaboration much easier.
If you’d like to find out more about forming positive connections at work, we cover this topic in our ‘Effective Working Relationships’ online course, which is particularly useful for those working in a team in the hospitality industry.