Use curiosity and vulnerability to build great relationships with your colleagues

publishedabout 1 month ago
3 min read

Hello there!

I hope you're doing well. Spring is awakening in Chicago as are parks, commerce and more friend and family gatherings.

It can't come soon enough. One of the more challenging aspects of working remotely has been the nurturing of relationships with co-workers, clients and others in the community.

It has always been difficult to build great working relationships. And if my current conversations with colleagues and teams is any indication, a lot of folks are trying to work on this aspect of their work culture.

Why is it hard to build relationships at work?

I am known to blame a traditional culture of "professionalism" that often simply masquerades as competence, favors existing power constructs and suppresses vulnerability.

And in many ways, it is vulnerability that is at the root of relationship building. Because to build relationships, you have to put yourself out there in support of others.

How is that?

The core of building relationships is to be for other's self-confidence, skill-building and accomplishments.

When you are interested in and value others for who they are, what they think and how they do their work, you will build great working relationships.

But there are many mindsets and beliefs in the work world that are in direct opposition to this way of looking at relationship building.

"We need to cultivate a high performance culture."

"Let HR deal with all that soft stuff."

"We need to stay focused on our mission!"

"Relationships have no role in the workplace."

"If you go easy on them, they'll take advantage of you."

I don't know if I am really characterizing this well, but there seems to be so much in traditional work culture which tries to maintain arm's length relationships versus cultivating deeply meaningful and supportive ones.

And now the overwhelming theme I am hearing from colleagues and work places is that relationship building is one of their main priorities.

So what are a few things you can do to build relationships and your ability to work together with colleagues?

First of all, acknowledge that everyone has a unique style and dynamic to how they think and work. While this drives Theory X managers crazy, it is a way to unlock tons of value over time.

Be curious, pay attention and learn about these styles. Look for ways to provide opportunities and challenges in a way that makes use of other's working style.

Do you find yourself characterizing other's quirks or working styles in a negative way? How can you reframe their behavior or actions in a way that helps you see its potential value? Or how could you recognize other behaviors that are beneficial versus focusing on ones you don't relate to?

Be interested in other's interests. I have always made a point to inquire about my colleagues' hobbies, projects and passions outside of the workplace. I've always been amazed what I hear and how I end up learning from them.

Here's just a few examples of the joy and genius in my colleagues' lives:

  • makes electronic music sculptures
  • weave scarves, blankets, etc. on a loom in their apartment
  • learning to play the marimba
  • collects baby troll dolls
  • takes vacations in silence
  • expert in marvel comics and all the lessons in the stories
  • Mountain Dew special flavor collector

Every one of those are whole worlds to explore with your colleagues.

Being curious and exploring their joys helps deepen relationships. And you can use ideas, lessons and principles from those passions in your work!

Another approach is to look for ways to do something special or surprising for others.

One of my colleagues would bring back a small gift for one or more team mates that didn't travel with him on the project. It always seemed to relate to the recipient's interests and was something unique from the location he travelled to. This touched people deeply, knowing that he cared for his team mates and was thinking about them back at the office.

Finally, don't take yourself too seriously. Share your own failures. This is extremely powerful in building trust with your colleagues. Made a mistake? Own up to it! Apologize and welcome feedback. People love to work with others who are open, take responsibility and demonstrate their own vulnerability.

These are just a few examples of meaningful ways to engage with and grow with your colleagues. There are many more!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas about building stronger relationships at work.

What holds people back? What norms need breaking? What have you seen people do that you think is especially effective?

Hit reply and let me know. I'd love to hear from you,


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