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It’s been said that no man (or woman) is an island. This is especially true in the workplace.
Business is about people. Anyone in any position in the workforce has to interact with people at some level. The relationships we build-–or fail to build—can follow us for a lifetime. They can help us grow and achieve great things, or they can hold us back.
This plays out in a lot of different ways:
The people with whom you develop strong relationships can be incredible advocates for your career. They can provide you with support and wisdom, give you access to new opportunities, and help you get where you want to be.
Conversely, the people with whom you struggle can be a real thorn in the side of your career. They can hold you back and damage your reputation with others. They can prevent you from leveraging new opportunities and make it harder for you to perform at your best.
I’ve seen bad relationships haunt people for years, just as I’ve seen good relationships yield tremendous return.
There’s just no denying that relationships have real career consequences. They can be your greatest asset or your most draining liability.
The Keys to Success
When it comes to developing strong professional relationships, I have a few important concepts to share:
Professional Relationships Are Not Personal
There is a distinct difference between friendship and professional relationships.
True friends are the people with whom you share the intimate, personal details of your life. They love you and you love them. You can say anything to each other because, at the end of the day, you know they always have your best interests at heart and vice versa. Friends are people to have fun with; people who will give without expectation of anything in return. They make you feel good when in their presence.
Friends are awesome.
Professional relationships are awesome too, but not in the same way. Sure, sometimes work colleagues can become friends, but that’s not the primary goal. Professional relationships are purposeful. They are, fundamentally, built on the premise of mutual benefit. Each person in a professional relationship is working toward a goal. In the strongest relationships, both parties enhance their ability to achieve their goals with the help of the other. It’s a win-win. That doesn’t mean that things are always perfectly even, but by and large, the relationship serves everyone involved.
For example, I have a professional relationship with my clients. I provide career coaching or training services and they provide me with payment. It is therefore mutually beneficial. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy their company and sometimes become friends with them in the process, but the primary reason we are interacting is based in business.
Likewise, when you’re in the workplace, you have relationships with your co-workers, clients, and superiors. You provide something for them, they provide something for you. It’s a matter of business.
When it comes to professional relationships, it’s important to keep your expectations in check. These people are not necessarily friends, and that’s okay. This isn’t about the warm and fuzzy feeling of friendship. It’s about collaborating and communicating in a way that improves your ability to get things done. The basic tenets of friendship are still there—respect, rapport and trust to name a few—but the purpose is entirely different.
Recommended Reading: How to Be Respectful: My 4 Essential Rules
Adapt to the Quirks of Others
The workplace is full of people. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that many of them are not people we would choose to spend time with if not for the fact that we had to. Out in the real world, we likely wouldn’t voluntarily pick many of colleagues as friends. But then again, they’re not supposed to be friends—they are professional associates.
Consequently, we often have to overlook the inherent flaws and imperfections of others in the workplace. We have to be willing to say, “This person is not my favorite, but they’re still valuable.”
Practically speaking, that means adapting to the little quirks of humans. Maybe you’d prefer it if your cubicle mate didn’t chomp on celery sticks all day. Is that really such a big deal though? Is it worth a confrontation or is it something you can adapt to?
There will, of course, be times when adapting just doesn’t work and you’ll have to address a situation or a person head on. Just make sure it’s worth it. Some minor irritations and personal shortcomings are simply unavoidable when dealing with people.
Recommended Reading: How to Work with Humans
Give Before Taking
Finally, it’s worthwhile noting that, even though professional relationships are purposeful and intended to be mutually beneficial, it’s still smart to approach them with a “give first” mentality. Instead of thinking about what you can get from others, focus on what you can do to help and support them in their career goals. When you do this, you enhance your own professional reputation and draw others to you.
By nature, humans are compelled by the Law of Reciprocity, which means if you do something for me, I’m more inclined to do something for you in the future. That doesn’t mean you should give with the sole expectation of getting something in return, but understand that this is how it works. People want to help people who help them.
If you’re looking for more on this topic, become a member of the Career Resource Library and get immediate access to the following:
- Repairing Damaged Professional Relationships (webinar)
- Networking Naturally (free excerpt from full Networking Naturally e-book)