Nearly every career coach will tell you that having a strong network is key to your success. And it’s true - the articles you’ve read in Forbes or Entrepreneur aren’t wrong. A strong professional network can have a tremendous impact on your ability to find a new job, receive great recommendations and move up the ladder. But typically, they are referring to your network outside of the office. What about your social network at work?
In 2013, psychologist Matthew Lieberman published Social. He makes the case that the human need to connect is as intrinsic and essential as the need for food and water. It is our interpersonal relationships that nourish us. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes the same case, the human need for belonging is critical to our fulfillment, and this is especially true at work. Because the work place is a community - and it’s a community that you have the power to strengthen. If you want to cultivate meaningful relationships at work, here are a few tips to get you started.
Express genuine interest in others. The best way to express a genuine interest is to ask your colleagues real questions. While small talk is helpful when you’re networking at a cocktail party, if you ask the same surface questions day in and day out at the office, your relationships with become stagnant. To build dynamic relationships ask people questions that illustrate you are paying attention to who they are, what they care about and what they are working on.
Be generous with your gratitude. Millennial workplace expert Lindsey Pollak says “Expressing gratitude when appropriate is one of the most important elements of professional etiquette.” I couldn’t agree with her more. Whether I’m thanking a colleague for sending me a document prior to a deadline or leaving a thank you note post-it on someone’s computer screen, I always prioritize saying thank you. As a fundraiser you learn that stewardship is one of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of relationship building. Remember when you did something for someone and they didn’t say thank you? Of course you do. We all know that person who didn’t make us feel appreciated and we all have the opportunity to be better.
Help someone every day. In a 2006 study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves. Offering to help out on a project or even grab something from the printer not only helps a coworker, it makes you healthier inside and out.
Make email your friend, not your enemy. Countless articles have been written about the evil banality of email. And I understand. When it’s 10:00pm and you’re phone vibrates with another email from your supervisor, it can be easy to make email the scapegoat. But the truth is - email is the backbone of most office communications. And because of this, it needs to be a friend and not an enemy. If you know a co-worker is out sick, send them a short “Feel Better!” note. Heard that someone’s daughter isn’t doing well - send a cheery gif wishing them and their family the best. Co-worker has new desk plant - offer to water it if you know they’ll be out of the office. All of these little interactions make a difference, especially in our increasingly globalized world.
Be consistent. When leadership expert David Horsager gave a 2011 TED Talk on trust he reaffirmed what many of us already know innately. When someone’s behavior is consistent it allows us to trust them. In large part because it makes us feel safe. Strong relationships are built on a foundation of trust - so be sure to play your part and keep up these good behaviors.
We are at work more than we are any place else - it’s up to you to make it matter. Try one of these tips today and let me know how it goes!