How to Build Real Relationships at Work

Doing your job is only part of your job. The rest boils down to being seen, heard, and known—none of which is possible without strong connections. But the hybrid office has made relationship building even more awkward than it used to be. In this article, the author offers helpful advice on how to spark conversations in the office—and how to build on those conversations when you see the same person again. As he writes, “Breaking the silence is the hardest step because it’s the easiest to think about: Am I disturbing this person? asks a voice in our head. What will this person think of me? Another voice wonders. What am I even saying? A third voice adds. It doesn’t take long for doubt to sink in and opportunity slips away. The easier it is for us to break the silence, the more likely we are to do it. The good news is that we have constant opportunities to turn strangers into acquaintances.”

Does it feel awkward to enter the office? It could be — especially if you’ve been working remotely or are surrounded by more empty desks and chairs than people at work. If anything, the experience can feel a lot like the first day of school, but every day: where should i sit What can I say? How do I find friends?

Building professional relationships can feel even more overwhelming if you’re an introvert or new to your organization, especially if all of your other colleagues already know each other in three dimensions. But as I learned from interviewing more than 500 professionals from various industries and professions for my book The unspoken rules, Relationship building in a hybrid environment is easier than it seems. It all starts with breaking down the otherwise overwhelming and unhelpful “Get out of there!” advice. into smaller steps that anyone can take:

Step #1: Break the silence

This is the hardest step because it’s the easiest to think about: Am I disturbing this person? asks a voice in our head. What will this person think of me? Another voice wonders. What am I even saying? A third voice adds. It doesn’t take long for doubt to sink in and opportunity slips away.

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The easier it is for us to break the silence, the more likely we are to do it. The good news is that we have constant opportunities to turn strangers into acquaintances.

  • Do you work in an office with a “hoteling” or “hot desking” model where employees can choose where to sit? Try to position yourself near high-traffic areas like entrances, meeting rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. This can make it easier for you to meet people, make eye contact, nod, smile, and say “hello” or “good morning,” which begins building a relationship.
  • Invited to a meeting, town hall, happy hour or event? Try showing up a minute early, standing or sitting next to a stranger who doesn’t look busy, making eye contact, holding out a hand, and saying, “Hi, I don’t think we know each other. I am _______. Nice to meet you!”
  • Just finished a meeting? Get over the urge to run right away and instead walk up to someone and drop an “I’m _______” followed by a “loved your comment about _______.”
  • Do you travel for work? Try asking, “Anybody want a ride?” and use the carpool time to spark conversation.
  • Do you have some lead time before entering the office? Try texting a colleague you’ve only met virtually and saying, “I’ll be in the office tomorrow. I’d love to put a face to a name when you’re around!”

These opportunities aren’t just strategies for introverts or shy people. They are the secrets of the most effective relationship builders. Take a look around before your next meeting, and you’ll quickly realize, for example, that the time some people are digging into their phones is also the time others are making connections.

Step #2: Turn “Hi” into “Hi again.”

The first time you do something is always uncomfortable. The second time is always easier. If you’ve said hello to a stranger, you’ve already taken the hardest step – and allowed yourself to say hello again. This is your chance to turn acquaintances into allies.

  • Do you have a moment when you return to your computer? Consider sending an email along the lines of, “Thanks for the fun chat. I love that we are both _______. I look forward to crossing paths again and hopefully working together soon.”
  • Do you see her in the hall again? Smile and drop a “Hello again!” and then move on to whatever you discussed, whether it was “How was the wedding?” or “How did the presentation go?”
  • Do you see her on a group call? Send them a “Nice to see you again” or slip them a private message of encouragement when they fiddle with their words.
  • Did you come across any information that might be relevant to you? Forward the website, email, podcast, video, article, or white paper with a “I just came across this and was reminded of our conversation about _______.”
  • Find an opportunity you might be interested in? Share with a “I was invited to this event and thought of you. Check it out if it’s of interest.”
  • Meet two people who could help each other? Introduce yourself by saying, “Do you know _______? She is also _______. Let me know if a chat would be helpful and I can ask her if she’s interested.”
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Step #3: Turn “Hello again” into “Let’s talk.”

Most of the people you meet professionally will remain acquaintances. This is natural. After all, we only have so many hours in a day and only so many relationships to nurture at one time. But when we come across the special few who are a few steps ahead of us and eager to push it forward, we have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and avoid them. Here are four options for turning allies into mentors:

  • Need a second opinion? Try asking about them Entry by saying, “I’m working on _______ and would like your opinion on _______ since you are the expert on _______.”
  • Not sure which way to go? Try asking about them advice by saying, “I am trying to _______ and would like your advice on _______. Could you have a few minutes to chat?”
  • Are you interested in following in their footsteps? Try asking about them story by saying, “I would like to follow in your footsteps because _______. Could you spare a few minutes to chat? I can be reached at the following times…”
  • Working on a project that overlaps with your interests and expertise? Try asking about them participation by saying, “I am recruiting consultants to direct the direction of _______. I thought of you straight away.”

Step #4: Convert “let’s chat” to “let’s build a relationship.”

Some people you meet become “mentors” who offer advice. Others become “sponsors” who open doors. This person has the power to invite you to closed meetings, involve you in high-profile projects, and even lobby for your promotion.

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Do you meet someone senior who seems invested in you and your career?

  • First, try sharing yours Gates. For example: “When I think about where I want to be in five years, I would like to follow in your footsteps and _______. What is your advice on what to start, stop and keep doing to achieve such a goal?”
  • Next, try sharing yours progress. For example: “I just had my performance review and wanted you to know that it ended up saying exactly what we predicted and discussed. My manager told me _______. Next quarter I plan _______. No need to reply – just wanted to update you and thank you for _______.”
  • Along the way, try sharing some of yours fights also. For example: “I was thinking about _______ and felt like I could have done _______ better. Am I correct, or what would you do differently if you were in my place?”

. . .

As the son of a single immigrant mother who spent her career in a sewing factory, I was always told to put my head down and let my hard work speak for itself. But after elucidating the differences between professionals who build fulfilling careers and professionals who stumble and don’t know why, I now have a different perspective: In the corporate world, doing your job is only part of your job . The rest boils down to being seen, heard, and known—none of which is possible without strong connections.

While not every relationship you form will result in a long-term relationship, at least the next time you meet you will have another friendly face, another person to turn to, and another person to turn to in times of need to turn. Make your next visit to the office more than just a commute.

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