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  • Writer's pictureKathy Miles

Why Building Effective Working Relationships is the Cornerstone to Business Success

Building Effective Working Relationships

From years of working in HR and Training and Development roles, I've often found myself in a position that makes people want to talk to me. What I've heard over the years is that regardless of the job; people and relationships can make a significant difference when someone is deciding whether they should stay in a role or leave.

For people based in an office role, a lack of strong relationships around them can spell disaster for the organisation's retention rate. No matter how much a person dislikes what they are doing, if they have strong working relationships; if they love working with their manager or if they feel they are part of a team, then they will be more likely to stay. On the flip side, if they love their job, but have no support network or working relationships with those around them in the workplace, then they will start to question their place in the scheme of things and sooner or later they will leave.

For those working as an entrepreneur from their own home, they are faced with a similar issue. While working from home does sound good to most people (think working your own hours, flexibility etc) one of the real downsides can be the isolation. It can be lonely with no one to talk through ideas with, no one to distract you and convince you to actually take a lunch break and be social, no on location team or support network.

I have been fortunate to have been on both sides of the fence - working in small to large organisations and more recently, working as an entrepreneur from my own home. Whilst these two couldn't be further in extremes, the irony is that relationships are fundamentally pivotal to job satisfaction and success.

Worker to co-worker, manager to worker, client to customer, focus group to marketer, or any other combination involving two or more people relies crucially on the effectiveness of a working relationship for success.

Why Building Effective Working Relationships is Important

Simply put, an effective working relationship brings tremendous value to any business.

Productivity, revenue, feedback, positivity, reputation, morale and many other criteria noticeably improve when strong, mutually beneficial working relationships are nurtured.

Essential Elements of an Effective Working Relationships

When you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, effective working relationships are based on a few simple key factors:

Respect - Respect is a term often used today, but not always understood, especially in the workplace.
According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online "respect" has several meanings including:
  • "Admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities."

  • "Politeness, honour, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important."

  • "The feeling you show when you accept that different customs or cultures are different from your own and behave towards them in a way that would not cause offence."

Respect shouldn't just be limited to another person’s beliefs, religion or other personal attributes or characteristics. The true meaning of respect is reassuring the other person that they matter on a human level, not just as a worker to produce an outcome.
Some ways to achieve this include:
  • Use active listening skills;

  • Display appropriate body language when communicating;

  • Treat each person individually rather than having a one-size fits all approach to management and leadership;

  • Collaborate and share ideas, experiences, thoughts and feelings;

  • Ask for other's ideas, opinions and suggestions;

  • Use emotional intelligence;

  • Understand each individual's motivation and motivate them accordingly;

  • Share the credit and praise for work well done;

  • Maintain confidentiality;

  • Provide support and assistance to your employees when they need it;

  • Give positive feedback and praise openly;

  • Provide constructive feedback rather than negative feedback;

  • Manage your emotions and stress;

  • Show others that you care about them, be kind;

  • Share your trust and confidence in others; and

  • Treat people as you would like to be treated.

Understanding - Understanding is generally attained when all parties in the relationship understand their own and each other’s needs and behaviours.
Unfortunately not everyone has the same level of awareness when it comes to understanding and this often leads to misunderstandings, for example:
Bob organises a meeting with his manager Susan in order to discuss a few things that he had been thinking about for a while. Bob is unhappy with a particular job that he does and thinks that other people should be doing it or at least helping out. He also feels like he needs more feedback so that he knows how he is going. It has taken him a few weeks to get up the courage to request a private meeting with Susan.
On the day of the meeting Susan has sent Bob a quick email that simply states "Bob - I need to postpone our meeting as something important has come up. Sorry!"
Bob now feels like he is unimportant, that Susan doesn't care about him and that his needs aren't being met. He feels resentful and thinks to himself "if they don't care about me, why should I care about doing a good job?"
In the scenario above, the assumptions that Bob has made can very quickly scale into behaviours that support these assumptions. Imagine if Bob starts reducing his performance, getting to work late continually and not contributing or communicating. Soon his assumptions are going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and there will be a need for Susan to performance manage Bob.
This entire scenario could have been prevented by a little more understanding from both parties. I'm a strong believer in "for every action there is a reaction", if you are aware of this and think through every action and what the possible reactions will be, you can avoid a lot of common misunderstandings.
In the situation above, Susan could have said to Bob "Unfortunately something extremely urgent has popped up that I need to deal with immediately. Our meeting is important to me, can we please reschedule to 2.00pm this afternoon instead?"
Bob could also have avoided jumping to assumptions and instead simply said to Susan "No problem I understand how busy you are. This meeting is important to me as I need to discuss a couple of things with you, can we please reschedule to another time?"
By having a little more understanding of what might be going on for the other person, what their needs are and how they are feeling, relationships will function much better.
Communication - It’s an irony of our times that the more methods we have to communicate - email, smartphones, instant messaging, social media etc, the more challenging communication actually becomes.
Communication or miscommunication is a major cause of workplace conflict and disharmony among workers. The main reason why miscommunication occurs is often our own lack of awareness that people assume meaning from communication based on their own life experiences, which won't be the same as ours. For more information on this, check out my blog on 'The Importance of Communication Skills Training'.
For effective work relationships it is imperative that when we communicate we:
  • Don't make assumptions about meaning;

  • Ask questions - if you're not sure what something means or what the message is behind the communication then ask;

  • Check for understanding - "Did you understand what I meant when I said .....", "Can you explain it back to me what I need you to do?;

  • Ensure that our communication is as clear and concise as possible. Look for anything that could have a double meaning and clarify this more; and

  • Actively listen (this means still your mind from thinking of the next thing you are going to say and concentrate on what the other person is saying to you.

Collaboration - Although we’ve all heard about ‘win-win’ in the workplace, very few realise that effective work relationships function best when all parties feel they are working together for mutual success.
A manager or leader who delegates various tasks of a large project to their team members to complete but then takes all the credit for the success of the project will quickly find that team members are less willing/motivated to help in the future.
Whereas a manager or leader who shares the success and credit for work, who can communicate to team members the importance of their particular piece of work in the grander scheme of things and who can create excitement and motivation around team success, will be able to foster much stronger relationships and experience more success from their team over the long-term.

Nurturing - Any relationship, be it friendships, marriages, social or professional, share one thing in common. To be successful and long-lasting they need to be nurtured.
Relationships are hard work and the time and effort you put into your relationships will determine how successful they are. Without a doubt, effective working relationship are worth the effort to grow and develop.
Some ways to do this include:
  • Treating people with respect and kindness;

  • Treating people as individuals;

  • Using emotional intelligence (showing empathy);

  • Effective, open and regular communication;

  • Keeping your promises - if you say you are going to do something, then follow through on this;

  • Compromise to ensure a win-win outcome;

  • Have a positive attitude and outlook;

  • Show appreciation;

  • Be generous with feedback and praise;

  • Share large successes and small wins;

  • Learn from each other;

  • Use active listening skills;

  • Resolve conflicts or disagreements immediately and look for ways to learn from these; and

  • Foster trust by maintaining confidentiality and not gossiping.

How to Maintain Effective Work Relationships

The two secrets to maintaining effective work relationships are perhaps the two aspects that are also easiest to implement.

  1. Think of the relationship like a flower - it can either grow and bloom, or it can wither and die. Each little positive input, no matter how small, or how irregular, feeds and nurtures growth. Showing gratitude, sharing success, listening to the other person, smiling, helping them - all of these are little seeds that sow success.

  2. Understand that people are the assets of any business - and anything that involves two or more people is the opportunity to build an effective working relationship. This could be as simple as somebody making your coffee, completing your report, listening to your moods or problems - all of which involve the five elements discussed previously, and are an opportunity to nurture and improve the relationship.

PDI Solutions can assist with developing and facilitating a customised training program for your organisation to assist with effective relationship building. Contact us today for a free consultation at or visit our website at

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