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Ways to Establish and Strengthen Work Relationships

The quality of the relationships you have at work is an essential contributor to job satisfaction, not to mention job advancement. It's hard to overemphasize the importance of the kind of connections you make with others at work. For some people, the ability to connect comes naturally. For most, though, there is at least a level of awkwardness, if not genuine fear, associated with relationship building. Here are some tips that should make this important task easier to implement effectively:

1. Take a personal interest in other people. This means engaging a sense of curiosity about your fellow workers' lives: their backgrounds, their families, and their interests. It's fairly easy to begin a conversation with people at work you don't know by asking what department they work in or where they live. Moving beyond that, however, requires a bit of delicacy; you need to walk the line between curiosity and intrusiveness. A way to indicate your sensitivity is to overtly state that you are interested in learning more about them, but that you certainly don't mean to pry.

2. Focus. The place that many people fall short in implementing the suggestion above is that they only partly pay attention to the other person, still holding on to their own perspective and to thoughts about what they want to say next, or how to dispute what that other person is saying. It's so tempting to interrupt the rationale that someone is expounding when there's an obvious flaw, but don't succumb - wait until the other is finished. Relatedly:

3. "Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood." This is one of Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It makes the point that the natural tendency of most people in convrsation is to think first about what they want to communicate, and only afterwards to focus on what the other person is saying. Instead learn to listen with your full attention....you'll find that you are better able to communicate what you need to if you have a better understanding of your "audience". (Note that this is one of the primary principles of effective advertising, a sophisticated form of persuasion: know what the consumer is interested in hearing, rather than focusing on what points "should" be made about the product or service). 

4. Look first to your own behavior, rather than to the behavior of others. When disagreements or conflicts arise it is easy, and in fact natural to find fault with the other person. We are much more strongly wired to identify outside sources of disturbance than we are to identify internal ones. Nonetheless, there is far greater leverage in discerning our contribution to whatever it is that is upsetting. After all, we have exceptionally limited ability to influence the thinking and behavior of others, whereas at least in theory we should be able to control our own. Again, relatedly:

5. Learn about your hot buttons. There are things about certain people, certain behaviors, looks, or even words, that tick us off. It is essential to understand that when someone does something that pushes our buttons (the particular sensitivities relating to the past), it is our buttons that are at fault more than the actions of the other person. Granted, there are some behaviors that are pretty generally disliked, like arrogance, bossiness, or a know-it-all attitude. But look closely to try and discern what role the pushing of your own particular buttons is playing, and to what degree they are creating overeaction. As you learn about your buttons you will better be able to control them, and better be able to anticipate in what situations they are likely to be pushed.

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