February 28, 2018
Our lives are filled with all kinds of different relationships: sibling, spouse, friend, child, neighbor, co-worker or colleague, boss, vendor, acquaintance, train buddy, tennis partner, professional, and the list goes on and on and on. It takes effort, thought, and determination to cultivate, maintain, and grow these relationships – a process is known as relationship building.
Each type of relationship has unique challenges and benefits, including relationships with colleagues. In your work experience, you have likely encountered supportive, encouraging, and collaborative colleagues, as well as demanding, discouraging, and negative ones. Some work-based relationships develop easily, while others prove to be more difficult.
Cultivating a relationship begins with pleasantries followed by finding common ground, but it can't stop there. No, nurturing a work-based relationship takes effort. For example, if you recently met a colleague from the finance office and realized that s/he is planning a trip to France this summer and you spent a week in France two summers ago, then follow-up and suggest a few places to visit. After the colleague returns from their trip, reach out and ask about it. These efforts, just like in our personal relationships are meaningful. To cultivate the relationship further, step up and offer to be if assistance when colleagues ask. If a colleague in sales is looking for a small group of people to participate in a product test, raise your hand, and offer to be of assistance. These gestures help to build relationships and capital. You become the person people can count on.
Regardless of how your relationships with colleagues evolve, these relationships often allow you to be more collaborative, increasing productivity, as well as enjoyment in the work. There are other benefits as well; the relationships you develop with people from other departments provide you with the opportunity to learn how those departments work and function as part of the greater whole. This knowledge can be valuable. For example, if you are proposing a new product, and your colleague in the Communications Department told you the company website is going to be completely overhauled during the next three months, you might opt to time the launch of that new product based on the unveiling of the new website.
I believe in the power of relationships, but I also understand one basic tenant – you can’t expect to receive if you have only taken. A friend once described it like this, “You have to make many deposits before you can make any withdrawals.” Think about it – you can’t ask a colleague to help you out of a bind if you have only been on the taking end of the relationship. The act of giving builds trust, while continually taking erodes trust. However, it is never 50/50. There will be time periods in relationships where you give 70%, while the other person gives 30%, but those percentages might flip the following year because you were tapped to dive deep into a long-term project. It’s okay, better actually, to do more giving than receiving because then when you need assistance or a favor, you will have have made more than enough deposits in your relationship bank, and you easily can make a withdrawal.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies