Work relationships need more than a nod across the table

Workplaces are a microcosm of connection, conversation, and conflict. In other words, they are a place where relationships happen. Yet many leaders don’t intentionally develop the relationships that are key to their success. If you peek behind the curtain of leaders who fail, you might find that breakdowns happen because they haven’t deliberately established healthy, productive relationships with their stakeholders.

Leadership is, after all, about influence. And influencing others requires you to have a relationship with them so that trust is built.

Establishing key stakeholder relationships takes more than just a nod across the table at a meeting. It requires you to:

Put their needs first before your own. You might feel the need to push back against this idea, and with some justification and a nod to the times when you put someone else first and felt you were taken advantage of. That’s really a rare occurrence. When you meet with those you need to have in your circle, ask them what you can do for them, listen thoughtfully and decide if you can help (and follow through) or explain why you can’t. Most people will reciprocate and ask you what you need. People want to collaborate, and building relationships with them in mind will go a long way toward your success.

Get to know them in a personal way by listening and asking questions. Ask them questions about what they do, what they enjoy doing at work and their successes and challenges.  It’s okay to learn a little about them personally, to remember what you learned and to ask more about it later (they’ll like it that you remembered). You can keep it light and still learn a little about their life outside of work; their hobbies, their family, and what they value. Getting to know people can be interesting for you and most people will appreciate your interest in them.

Manage the relationship as you would any other relationship. When there is conflict, step into it with respect and empathy for their point of view. Let them know you are grateful for their support, and lend them a helping hand spontaneously when you can. Although your workplace is complicated by a hierarchy that you may not experience in other relationships you have, treat everyone as an equal, no matter where you or they stand in the hierarchy.

Put effort into developing key stakeholder relationships that go beyond passing people in the hallway or nodding at them across the table in a meeting, and you’ll reap the benefits – both professionally and personally.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.