My biggest fear, when I started my company more than 20 years ago, was that I wouldn’t get any business. For someone in the business of promoting and amplifying messages, I wasn’t sure how to do that for myself. The thought of cold calling sent shivers down my spine. I even took a psychology test from a consultant who works with sales people. He told me that in all his decades of experience, he’d never had anyone score as high on call reluctance as I did. 

As it turned out, I didn’t have to dial for business because I had something even more valuable–strong relationships with people who trusted me, valued my skills and wanted to help me. That is what got the business off the ground and now after two decades it is what sustains it. 

To succeed, we have to work with and through other people.  It isn’t always easy and sometimes it is downright messy and painful.  But nurturing relationships with colleagues, clients, contractors and our own team has big payoffs. The junior professional you complimented during a meeting may become a CEO and will never forget how nice you were to him on his way up. The boss you helped get out of a mess of her own making and you kept mum about it, will be forever grateful. Your assistant whom you mentored goes on to another company and hires your firm.

It’s easy to feel disconnected, especially as more of us are working remotely or in hybrid environments. But investing the time and effort in building relationships is even more critical.  

Here are a few tips to consider:

Genuinely Care about, Be Interested in Others and Show It. 

Learn about the people you work with or do business. What are their hobbies? What matters to them at work and in life. Listen carefully when the boss tells you about the latest adventure of their puppy, or when a client talks about their vacation. Periodically ask them about those things. Approach every relationship from the perspective of the Prism of Value. What can you do to help them advance or what can you do to help them avoid or reduce frustration or a challenge?

Be Honest Always and Humanely. 

Whether you are working within an organization or outside in a consulting role, be truthful and honest. That means sometimes having to deliver bad news. You made a mistake. Own it and what you are going to do to make it right. Something they wanted isn’t going to happen. Or a bad situation isn’t going away any time soon. Give them the news but also provide solutions. And sometimes it means simply listening. 

Think of Relationships as a Long-Term Investment. 

Good relationships are a gift that keeps giving. Referrals, friendship, support. When weighing particular actions, consider the impact on the other party. Sometimes a short-term win may not be good. Recently we were working on a project that had multiple partners. Three of the four partners were ready to push the project forward but the fourth one needed more time. We all decided to wait because, while it delayed our work, we took the long view that the relationship with that partner was more important.

Don’t Let Problems Fester.

Keeping frustrations with others inside is the silent killer of relationships. Maybe a business partner did something that embarrassed you. Or a colleague said something hurtful. If you decide not to say anything, unless you are ready to let go of your anger or hurt, those negative emotions will shape the relationship going forward. And every time something goes wrong, it will only make your feelings worse. Share your feelings calmly and firmly. 

Relationships are the glue that connects us and makes our world stronger. Tend to them. What are some of your thoughts on how to manage relationships at work?  

And check this post out for some tips on how to neutralize tough situations.