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Sunday, 19 March 2006

Workplace Relationships

Written by Miles Cooper

 

Miles Cooper asserts that one of the keys to career success is managing your workplace relationships...

Imagine a world where being good at your job was enough to move your career onwards and upwards. What if achieving targets, generating results and generally doing exactly what you’re paid to do was all that it took to get you up that greasy pole…

However, it just isn’t like that in the modern world of work. These days, being a solid, regular performer is only a part of the overall picture. You may be highly experienced in your role as, say, a departmental manager, keeping your troops in line, your department on target, staying well within your budget and putting in all the extra hours that the job demands…but guess what? - you still you won’t make that next big step up unless you can build solid relationships with your colleagues and your superiors.

Getting to grips with workplace protocol is vital for workers at all levels, irrespective of whether you’re just starting out in a new career or if you’ve been with the same employer for years.

Picture the scene: you’ve been tasked with running a major project, the success of which could make or break your reputation with your employer. If, going into the project, you haven’t established rapport with the colleagues and team members that you will need to engage in order to complete the project, these people may be less willing to give their all, less committed to ensuring that the project is a success. This will, of course, impact negatively on your own reputation, standing and prospects.

It would be naïve to imagine that you can control what other people think, say, feel and do, but what you can do is work hard at communicating effectively and positively with those around you, be diplomatic and engaging and generally project a positive image of yourself.

The following are useful strategies you can employ to help you build and manage positive relationships with your colleagues: {mospagebreak}

Communication

According to a recent survey almost half of those workers polled said that communication skills have the greatest impact on a person’s reputation at work and because there are more communication tools available than ever before, it’s important to express yourself clearly whether it’s on the phone, in person or in e-mail messages.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills:

- Proof it twice! — before sending an email or submitting a report, make sure you proofread it and then proofread it again for both errors and clarity. Do remember that your software’s spellcheck won’t catch all the mistakes.

- Review messages — nowadays most voicemail systems offer the facility for you to preview what you’ve recorded before sending the message. Take advantage of this feature to ensure your tone of voice is friendly and engaging and that your message is brief and to the point.

- Be courteous — your workplace may very well be a hectic place, your job highly stressful and the task in hand extremely urgent, but there is never, and I repeat never, any excuse for being discourteous. Remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It seems obvious but you’d be amazed how often we forget our Ps and Qs in the heat of the moment.

- Check in — it’s very important to establish whether your boss is satisfied with the frequency, quality and type of updates you give. Both new and more established employees should learn to adjust their reporting style to their supervisors’ preferences, where necessary.

Diplomacy

It is inevitable that sometimes, regardless of the level of co-operation and camaraderie among colleagues, misunderstandings will occur. Your ability to react with tact and diplomacy when faced with an office dispute or conflict will not only make you more effective in your role, but will also go a long way to improving future working relationships with those around you. Take the following steps to become the office diplomat:

- See both sides — get to know your colleagues and understand what motivates them, what makes them tick. You need to be respectful of the pressures they may be under and be willing, if required, to temporarily set aside your own agenda in order to see things from their perspective. Before you ask for a colleague’s help with a particular project, it makes good sense to determine whether your request will overburden an already-busy worker.{mospagebreak}

Know your office protocol!

It’s important to be sensitive to your department’s traditional ways of doing things, especially when the workplace is an unusually pressured one. A company’s unwritten laws usually evolve out of precedent and can often be somewhat unique to that organisation. For example, a new initiative you’re working on may bring up a dispute over which particular individual or department has the final say in an important decision. Although, technically, the only person you may need to seek feedback from on a project is your immediate supervisor, protocol may dictate that you also seek the approval of a colleague who is generally recognised as the organisation’s ‘in-house expert’ in that area.

Share the credit around

Whenever you report the results of a project in which you were one of several people involved, always use “we” instead of “I” in both your written and oral presentations. Also, if you’re the team leader, be sure to make mention of the specific contributions made by various members of the team.

Always use humour appropriately

A little light-hearted banter in the workplace can help ease the stress levels, maintain perspective and motivate others to do their best work. An employee with a good sense of humour is generally perceived as easy to work with and a welcome addition to a project team. Take your work seriously, but not yourself. Also, make a point of never laughing at someone else’s expense.

Image

The phrase ‘image is everything’ will sound familiar. But today it refers to much more than how you dress. Each of your interactions and communications is noted by your boss, colleagues and company and shapes your reputation. Here are some points to consider to achieve a polished, professional image:

• Extend courtesy — Being polite and respectful not only boosts your image, it builds consensus and helps projects move forward. Being courteous includes making realistic requests, starting meetings on time and not expecting others to solve your problems.

• Seek feedback — If you’re not sure what image you’re projecting at work, ask a few people. Make sure you consult people who will be honest in their assessment — you may want to ask beyond family and friends. The information should provide direction for your image-building efforts.

• Avoid the rumour mill — Don’t spread gossip or even listen to it. It’s not good for your professional image.

• Adopt an ‘owner’s’ mindset — Don’t approach your work like an employee - look at it like you own the company and have a personal stake in the results of your projects. It’s also critical to think of everyone as a customer, whether the person is a client or a colleague. The quality of your work is likely to improve as a result.

As a professional, the way you interact with others on the job is essential to your ultimate success. Although every work environment is different, making a sustained effort to communicate effectively, honing your diplomacy skills and projecting a polished image will help you build the solid working relationships that will be crucial to your career advancement.

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