Why you need to get personal at work

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Some leaders think that they shouldn’t develop “personal relationships” with their employees and other stakeholders at work.  When asked why they feel that way, they say that it would be unethical, immoral, and make them vulnerable to criticism.

Certainly, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed when you are developing relationships with others at work. Your ability to remain professional and not cross those lines is important to your integrity as a leader. It’s good to be clear that you aren’t everyone’s best friend, and that you don’t go beyond friendships into inappropriate relationships.

You can and should get personal to a degree without crossing those lines. Getting personal in an ethical, moral, and professional way is how legendary leaders influence others and get things done. And healthy bonds in the workplace can make magic happen when you:

Have an intention and plan to foster workplace relationships: Developing trusting relationships with others is the best way to influence them and get things done. Imagine trying to sell your ideas to people you don’t know and who also don’t know you well enough to trust you. Chances are that your efforts at influencing them would fail. So set an intention and make a plan to connect and develop the key relationships you need to make an impact. Getting to know others and allowing them to know you on a personal level is a powerful tool you can use to develop mutual trust.

Ask others about themselves gently, in a way that isn’t intrusive. Most of us spend at least 1/3 of our lives at work (more or less). Learning about others on a personal level will allow a workplace relationship to unfold that helps make it more pleasant and “livable”.  What do they do over the weekend? What hobbies do they have? Where did they grow up, or go to school? Sit back and listen, and you’ll be surprised at what you learn and what asking and listening can do for a relationship.

Let them get to know you: It’s perfectly okay for you to reveal some personal things about yourself that will help others get to know you too. Find a casual venue to have personal discussions, including those that say something about you and inform your leadership. What are your hobbies? What do you value? Do you have a family? Where did you grow up? What are you good at and what are you working to get better at? When have you failed and what did you learn from failure?

It’s okay to “get personal” with others at work – in fact it’s essential, as long as it’s ethical, moral, and professional. Watch for clues that you might have stepped over the line and then back off if you need to. You’ll find that your efforts at building connections and relationships will pay off. You’ll be making the workplace more pleasant as well as provide leverage for getting things done.

P.S. For some fun and in the interest of learning what going too far in getting personal at work might mean, watch this video of the best of Michael Scott from The Office.

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.