To Be Happier and More Successful, Give Higher Priority to Work Relationships

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Building and sustaining good work relationships makes people happier and more successful by connecting them with others and strengthening bonds throughout the entire team.

No one in an organization is an island unto him/herself. Our ability to achieve our goals, to perform our best and to grow depends not only on our sole efforts but also depends on varying degrees on other people. This is true whether we are introverts or extraverts, leaders or individual contributors, and regardless of our roles. People, and the work done in organizations are interdependent.

Good relationships elevate people’s spirits, and help spread a comradery that creates a foundation for mutual support, collaboration and teamwork.

What constitutes a good work relationship?

Trust. Trust is the underpinning for everything. Therefore, we’ll focus first on this key element and then we’ll get into other valuable aspects of a good work relationship.

A person’s ability to place trust in someone depends on how he/she perceives the other person, including that person’s reputation or track record. There are three fundamental questions that everyone asks themselves, silently, about one another at work. The answers will be important considerations. The 3 questionsv are:

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Are you committed to excellence?

These three questions, which were included in many training programs provided to corporations by (now retired) college football coach, Lou Holtzv, tie in with Stephen Covey’s 4 pillars of trust1, which include Integrity, Intent, Capabilities and Results.

We can make connections between the 3 questions and 4 pillars:

1. Can I trust you?Integrity
2. Do you care about me?Intent
3. Are you committed to excellence?Capabilities and Results

Let’s go over the 3 questions and the 4 pillars.

The first question, “Can I trust you?” is about integrity. If you look up integrity, you’ll find examples such as character, ethics, honor, honesty, follow-through (or doing what you say you’ll do), and having values that you stand for coupled with the courage to stand up for them.

The second question, “Do you care about me?” is about intent. We trust those who we believe care about us and our success, as much as their own. People who have laser-like focus on getting what they want, getting their own needs met, and on their own feelings, are not people we trust to be concerned with our well-being and success. We look for people who have demonstrated concern about their effect on others, rather than people who treat other people as a means to an end, and who conduct each interaction as a transaction.

The third question, “Are you committed to excellence?” is about your knowledge, skills, and performance results. This includes keeping knowledge up to date, continuously improving and fine-tuning skills, and going the extra step versus doing the bare minimum. It includes meeting deadlines, managing time effectively, and communicating well and often. It includes dependability and a track record of doing an excellent job.

Experts and authors on Trust may have their own ways of describing the key components of trust, but they share similarity and validate one another, as you can see with the three questions and the four pillars. That kind of consistency shows us we can depend on the information. We can trust that it is accurate.

It’s interesting to note that to build a good work relationship requires building trust, and that trust is also a result of a good work relationship, as one reinforces the other. Both take time and effort. This means that good relationships and trust need to have high priority if we want to build and sustain them.

“As you go to work, your top responsibility should be to build and maintain trust.” — Robert Eckert2

Think about this quote for a moment; if you take it to heart, it will shape your use of time at work.

The truth of Eckert’s statement endures, despite the fact that today’s 2021 world is a low-trust world. Misinformation, self-interest, hidden agendas and dishonesty, sometimes lying under the surface, hidden by partial truths, sometimes flagrantly open, fill our space. But, rather than making it impossible to trust, this contamination has served to make trust a critical currency, as it continues to be the energy enabling teamwork, collaboration, joy and prosperity for individuals and businesses.

Use Judgement in Giving Your Trust

It would be unwise to give blind trust in today’s world. What’s needed to find and give trust wisely is using our judgement.

Covey provides the following 3 factors to consider in making trust decisions3:

  1. Opportunity: What you’d be trusting someone with; its level of importance
  2. Risk: The level of risk you’d be taking; potential consequences of giving trust in this situation (and of not giving trust)
  3. Credibility: The character and competence of the person/people involved

Considering these three factors should enable you to make a lower-risk judgement. But, remember, to trust is to take a risk and not to trust is also taking a risk.

Weigh these risks, then you can more comfortably decide whether or not to extend trust, how much trust to extend, and under what conditions you’ll extend trust.

3 Steps to Build Trust in Work Relationships

  1. Start by Assessing Your Own Trustworthiness

A good work relationship and trust go hand in hand. Step one is assessing your on trustworthiness by looking at how well you can trust yourself. A good test is to look at goals you’ve set for yourself and reflect: how well did you do achieving them? Establishing a track record of consistency in meeting your commitments to yourself, will give you confidence and start you on the path to gain the trust of others. You can use the 3 questions or the 4 pillars to assess your own trustworthiness.

2. Assess your actions and behaviors during recent months, to consider how others may view your trustworthiness. You’ll need one or more uninterrupted work sessions, totaling at least an hour, to reflect on the 3 questions, and, in writing, identify opportunities for change and improvement. This will be the foundation of your action plan.

To gain the best benefit from this activity, you’ll need to look at yourself objectively and develop self-assessment questions that relate to your work experience. Remember to list improvement ideas after each question.

Some examples for reflection are as follows:

  • The first question, “Can I trust you?” is about integrity. Ask yourself: do you tell people the whole truth, and make sure they have the right impression? Do you withhold information? Do you admit your mistakes? Do you live up to your commitments? Do you walk your talk where your values are concerned? For example, do you join in with or stand by silently as others gossip about or bad-mouth a co-worker? If you have a value for loyalty or respect for others, this certainly would not live up to those values. Participating or enabling this behavior deteriorates trust. Having integrity in this example would mean you courteously, calmly and sincerely speak up for what you believe is right in an appropriate manner.
  • The second question, “Do you care about me?” is about intent. Do you share credit and give credit where it’s due? Do you share information and provide support as a member of the team? Are you humble? Do you ask questions, listen and learn from others? Do you solicit input or opinions? Do you work in partnership or do you try to dominate? Do you consider the feelings and needs of others or just your own? People want to trust those who work toward mutual success.
  • The third question, “Are you committed to excellence?” is about your knowledge, skills, and performance results. Do you focus on building your knowledge and skills? Do you find ways to continuously improve your work methods and work results? Do you produce high quality work, on time? Do you have a strong work ethic? Do you do the bare minimum or put in the effort to excel? People at work want to place their trust in others who they can count on to do a great job, on time.

3. The next step is to create an action plan. Select the most important improvement ideas from your list — the critical few — and start there. Track your performance against your plan daily, in writing. This is your personal development plan, so it’s your tool. To obtain a free generic Action Plan form, Message us on Facebook.

People cannot achieve success without trust.

“It changes the quality of every present moment and alters the trajectory and outcome of every future moment of our lives, both personally and professionally.” — Stephen R. Covey4

And, in this, you can make a difference. You can build it, restore it, sustain it, strengthen it, extend it, accept it, and increase it. It’s up to you.

Other Important Aspects of Good Work Relationships

Typically, we spend as much as 1/3 of our lives working. Good work relationships can make a profound difference both at work and at home. They can reduce anxiety and stress while also providing enjoyment and things to look forward to doing. Good relationships are essential human connections that are made possible as part of our jobs.

Besides making it more enjoyable, good work relationships can help each of us in other ways. Colleagues can help us in our careers short and long term by informing us of opportunities, providing recommendations, helping us, and giving praise and appreciation for our work and our teamwork.

Building and maintaining work relationships often require skills that aren’t required for other parts of our jobs, so it takes a personal commitment. Courses, books, mentors, and coaches can all help. There is a side benefit to investing in developing these skills: they can be helpful in our personal lives as well.

Skills to focus on strengthening to build and strengthen good work relationships include the following:

  • Communication skills such as giving and receiving feedback, listening to fully understand, conflict resolution, giving meaningful praise and appreciation, handling difficult relationships
  • Emotional Intelligence skills such as self-regulation
  • Time management
  • Negotiation and influence skills
  • Team member skills, meeting management, brainstorming, group problem solving

In Closing

Trust is powerful. High trust can make and lack of trust can break relationships. It is clearly the top-most variable that makes a difference in our lives every single day, affecting self-esteem, relationships with other people and relationships with organizations.

Communication is one of the skills that can play a significant role in enabling (or when done poorly, erode) trust between people. What we say and don’t say, how and where, affects both our trust and our emotions. Sharing information consistently and in a timely way can positively impact performance of the people counting on you. There are countless ways we affect people and their work through communication.

Following these 7 steps can help you to build and sustain effective, enjoyable relationships with your coworkers:

  1. Use the 3 questions and the 4 pillars to guide your behavior and choices such that you continue to build and maintain trust with your colleagues.
  2. Make time for work relationships. They are as important as the tasks on your to-do list. Manage your time effectively.
  3. Maintain consistent communication. Keep people informed on the status of work they trust you to do.
  4. Show appreciation and respect for others.
  5. Speak well of your team members.
  6. Make time to hone your people-skills such as Emotional Intelligence, meeting management, conflict resolution, negotiations, brainstorming, and problem-solving.
  7. Be positive.

Recommended Resources:

1 “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey with Rebecca R. Merrill, copyright 2006 by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY, NY and copyright 2006 by Coveylink, LLC

2 Robert Eckert LINK https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Eckert

3,4 “Smart Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link with Rebecca R. Merrill, copyright 2012 by CoveyLink, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY, NY

v Do Right video by Lou Holtz LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lcJ87KMPVg

Extra-Step Reading:

Harvard Business Review article, “How to Mend a Work Relationship” by Brianna Barker Caza, Mara Olekalns and Timothy J. Vogus, LINK: https://hbr.org/2020/02/how-to-mend-a-work-relationship

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