Five Ways to Develop More Meaningful Relationships at Work

A business meeting

Collaboration allows you and your colleagues to experience mutual agreements that satisfy everyone, which increases the likelihood of future collaboration.

Many people assume all work environments cultivate and maintain good relationships. Think again. Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, Academic Director of the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program, says business relationships can be tricky. “Sometimes they are transactional, simply interacting as a means to an end,” she said. “Other times they are relational, and centered on having meaningful engagements that build and maintain the relationship.”

Transactional interactions are collaborative and competitive. Collaboration allows you and your colleagues to experience mutual agreements that satisfy everyone, which increases the likelihood of future collaboration. Competitiveness can cause people to feel mistreated or cheated, and therefore discourages teamwork. On the other hand, relational interactions consider the people and the outcome. People pay close attention to both the process and the quality of communication. Combining these interactions as a collaborative, relational process is the secret to maintaining relationships. Here’s how:

1. Foster Open Communication
Communicating in an open and honest manner, in any relationship, is critical. You want to be prepared and honestly acknowledge what it is you know and do not know. Admitting you do not have an answer and saying you will look into it and get back to them establishes credibility. Being caught making things up can be considered deceptive and inauthentic.

2. Build Trust
One way of building trust is to find out what is important to your counterpart and commit to providing something for them. It can be a key data point, a book reference, or an introduction to a colleague. Whatever you promise, make sure it is something you can actually deliver on and that will build your image of being reliable.

3. Manage the Pace
It is useful to determine the "what" and "when" of milestones you can use to measure the pace of building your relationship. Your short- and long-term goals will need to be taken into consideration to identify these milestones and when you would like to reach them.

4. Control Your Emotions
Identify practices you can use to feel more comfortable even in the uncomfortable moments. Try to slow down your breathing or visualize a soothing scene. This will keep you calm and buy you time to think of a suitable response to dig deeper and clarify your understanding.

5. Create Mutually Beneficial Outcomes
Mutual benefits are the payoff for investing time and energy into business relationships. Maybe you learn from each other. Maybe performance increases when you are around each other. Or maybe there are other tangible benefits. Think about the aspects of the relationship you find valuable and want to retain. What are your contributions? What are theirs?

Read the full story at Inc. and learn more about the M.S. in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.