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Exercise Your Way to Stronger Work Relationships

The strength of your relationships determines your chances of success – start by mapping their strength

By Gustavo Razzetti

March 23, 2023

Actionable insights and exercise to drive success at work

Our relationships profoundly impact our ability to achieve our goals in both our personal and professional lives. As the saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

However, not all relationships are made equal. Some matter more than others. Having casual or transactional connections is not enough – they must be strong. To reap the benefits, you must actively cultivate authentic, meaningful relationships.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss why strong relationships are essential for leaders and team members. I will also share an exercise to map, assess, and strengthen your social capital. Let’s get started!

Why Your Relationships Are So Important to Your Success

A team is only as strong as its weakest link.

Establishing meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients is essential to professional success. Often overlooked, social capital is the backbone of a thriving work environment. Every aspect of who you are and what you do is determined by your relationships.

Social capital is the glue that holds organizations together. It’s the sum of networks, relationships, and trust among individuals and teams that facilitates collaboration. When teams have strong ties, they get more work done – and they do it faster.  

A study by Harvard Business Review revealed that close relationships within a team resulted in a 50% increase in employee satisfaction, further positively impacting the organization.

Investing in meaningful connections not only helps you professionally but can also have positive effects on your overall well-being. Research shows that having strong social ties at work provides a greater sense of purpose.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead echoed this sentiment, noting that "One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night." We are naturally inclined to establish deep bonds and seek support from others.

Strong relationships are a source of energy and increase belonging. They lead to improved well-being, increased productivity, and innovation. Conversely, even if temporarily fractured, broken relationships can harm both people and the organization.

Positive relationships have vast benefits for individuals and teams alike. They lead to increased job satisfaction, improved mental health, collaboration, and even higher performance levels. Moreover, employees with positive relationships with colleagues are more likely to stay with the organization.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Build Relationships

Strong relationships don’t happen overnight; they require effort and dedication. Avoid these common mistakes if you want to succeed together.

Building strong relationships has become more challenging in a hybrid workplace, as cues are harder to read when your team is not in the same room.

  • Not taking the initiative – It takes two to tango. Both parties need to take an active role in engaging and building a relationship.
  • Not being authentic – Genuine relationships require sharing meaningful experiences, stories, and feelings. Research suggests that a lack of authenticity in the workplace increases conflict among team members, creating a ripple effect. Snowballing conflict debt leads to higher turnover rates and tensions.
  • Not being intentional – Strong interpersonal relationships happen by design, not chance, as I explain in my book “Remote Not Distant.” True belonging is about reconnecting with ourselves and our teammates. Get to know your colleagues better. Let them know you value them as human beings, not just professionals.
  • Not demonstrating interest – Showing a genuine interest in the people you are trying to connect with encourages them to open up and reciprocate. Start by revealing the real you.
  • Focusing only on gains – Transactional relationships can only take you so far. Takers are more self-focused, while givers care about the other person's wants and needs. Relationships flourish when both parties are simultaneously engaged in giving and taking.

Strong interpersonal relationships are vital to increasing psychological safety. People need to feel welcome – comfortable being their true selves and free from judgment or criticism – in order to effectively collaborate with their colleagues.

Avoiding these common mistakes will help you create strong and lasting relationships with others that are beneficial for both parties.

Exercise: How to Map, Assess, and Strengthen Your Relationships

The strength of your relationships is a key indicator of your ability to succeed in your workplace. Whether you are a manager or team member, mapping your relationships will provide a clear assessment and opportunities to strengthen your network.

This exercise is perfect for launching a new team, kicking off a project, or resetting a team's culture.

The Improve the Strength of Your Relationships canvas is an effective way to acknowledge and assess existing relationships –– both professional and personal. If you want to evaluate both, I recommend doing it separately.

Download your free copy of The Strength of Your Relationships canvas

The Strength of Your Relationship canvas is divided into three sections:

  1. Map & Assess (current state)
  2. Reflect & Learn (preceding state)
  3. Improve & Protect (future state)

Map & Assess

  • List all the people that are essential for you to succeed at work and write their names around the “me” circle.
  • Consider people who have skills, information, authority, influence, personality, etc., that you don’t. Think both in terms of functional and emotional support.
  • Draw a line to connect each person to you – choose the appropriate type of line based on the strength of that relationship (three lines for unbreakable, doted for weak, etc.) Check the reference on the canvas.
  • Unbreakable relationships are rare – they can stand multiple tests and the passing of time. It doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but regardless of what happens, they stay the same.
  • On the other hand, a broken relationship is when you don’t see eye to eye with a colleague or manager. It takes a lot of time and effort to rebuild trust.
  • Between unbreakable and broken relationships lie strong and weak links – they are both susceptible to change.

Reflect & Learn

  • Reflect on each type of relationship (unbreakable, broken, strong, and weak) considering dynamics, past events, and how they evolved over time.
  • What are the characteristics of each group? Are there any patterns or commonalities across all relationships within each group? For example, likeability or common traits might affect how you relate with your coworkers. People often have broken relationships with certain managers based on previous experience.
  • Reflect on your behavior. Did some relationships change over time? What triggered that? What did you do to change those relationships – for better or worse? What have you done (or not) to contribute to the state of those relationships?

Improve & Protect

  • Categorize your relationships into two groups: those you care about and those you don’t. The goal is to focus your time and energy on the relationships you want to protect or improve.
  • Accepting that some relationships will be weak or broken forever is OK. But don’t give up on those that do matter without trying first.
  • Also, if you decide that, for example, your relationship with your boss is broken and you can’t/don’t want to fix it, what are the implications? Does this mean you need to quit? Can you use other alliances or people to help you succeed despite a broken relationship with your manager?
  • For each person, consider what you can do to preserve or improve the strength of the relationship. Use the start, stop, continue framework to build a plan (you don’t need to complete the three for every person – just the ones that feel relevant).
  • Make sure the actions are specific. For example, instead of “get to know them better,” consider “I will invite them for a coffee to learn more about their personal lives.”
  • Lastly, setting a specific date to do something will increase the chances that you actually do it.

Encourage your colleagues to map their relationships, too. When everyone focuses on improving overall work relationships, it becomes easier for both sides to address what each person can do instead of blaming the other party for a broken relationship.

🆘 Improving work relationship is easier said than done – often your team will need external help to overcome distrust and tensions. If that's your case, book a call to discuss how we can help you.

Improve the Strength of Your Relationships

By now, you understand the three steps for strengthening the quality of your connections: map and assess, reflect, and improve. Here are some actionable ways to increase your social capital.

Take the first step. If you care about fixing a relationship, don’t wait for the other person to take the initiative. Always.

Open up the dialogue and be honest. Express how you feel, but avoid blaming others. Owning your perspective allows the other person to understand where you’re coming from. Invite them to share their point of view, too. Listen without judging – when in doubt, ask clarifying questions.

Own your mistakes. Admitting when you have made a mistake is one of the most effective ways to rebuild trust. However, in the workplace, offering the right apology is not as simple as saying, “I’m sorry.”

Offering a good apology is an art. It involves three elements: acknowledgment of a fault, honest regret, and responsibility for the offense. You can put them all together, but a sincere, effective apology doesn’t always need all three.

Be clear and accurate. Avoid apologizing for the wrong thing and focus on communicating, not just expressing your regret.

Set goals together. When trying to rebuild a bad relationship with a coworker or manager, getting clarity on what each person expects from the relationship is important. By setting boundaries and expectations upfront, there can be less confusion.

Setting shared goals that each party can strive for will create shared ownership. It will shift the conversation from an intellectual debate to cooperation – both parties need to acknowledge their 50% share of responsibility.

Offer appreciation. Recognize when someone has done something positive. Showing gratitude and appreciation will help you build bridges. Restoring trust requires building on the positive. The fact that you have differences or don’t appreciate certain behaviors doesn’t mean everything in that person is broken.

Keep an open mind when engaging in conversation with coworkers that did you wrong. Assume positive intent. Rather than judging their character or values, focus on their actions and how they impacted you.

Move from “me” to “we.” Take a step back from focusing on the other person and refocus on the relationship itself. Remind the other person of the positive elements of working together. Both should agree that your relationship is important to restore the broken link and create more positive interactions in the future.

Words create reality. How you talk about people shapes your relationships. When Jerry Ganguzza became the service manager of Skyline Exhibits, he noticed a disconnect between sales and service. There was neither trust nor camaraderie. Both teams worked on different floors but felt miles apart. Ganguzza started calling both groups “Team LA,” no longer using their functions.

Find common ground. Bridging our differences is easier said than done. We often think that finding common ground means betraying our beliefs and values. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A meta-analysis by Berkeley University shows that bridging gaps doesn’t mean always agreeing with another person but recognizing common humanity. Disagreeing with others doesn’t mean permission to dehumanize them in the process.

Bridging requires empathizing with others. It’s about understanding their perspective, not persuading them to think as you do. Cultivating the right mindsets and approaches involves a lot of inner work. For instance, mindfulness can reduce biased attitudes and behaviors against people from different groups.

Most importantly, be patient. (Re)Building a relationship takes time. Don't expect immediate results and be willing to do the hard work.

Do you need help strengthening your work relationships? Reach out to learn how we can help your team increase its social capital.

Article by Gustavo Razzetti, CEO of Fearless Culture

Gustavo facilitates courageous conversations that drive culture transformation. He is a sought-after speaker, culture consultant, and best-selling author of the book Remote, Not Distant.

Razzetti is also the creator of the Culture Design Canvas – a visual and practical method for intentionally designing workplace culture. His insights were featured in Psychology Today, The New York Times, Forbes, and BBC.

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