I think it is safe to say that interpersonal relationships at work are of central importance to our careers.
After all, virtually everything that comes to us in life comes through other people. That great opportunity, that dream client, that book recommendation; the friendship, the romantic relationship, that inspiring mentor; happy memories, meaningful experiences and all the like.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, interpersonal relationships at work are also instrumental in achieving business success over the long term – and not just with clients and vendors, but also for improving morale and increasing retention inside of your organization.
So just how do we forge strong, authentic and trusting interpersonal relationships at work?
It begins with connection.
Connecting With Our Teammates First
In our Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), we provide client organizations with a placeholder mission statement as they begin the process of developing leadership capacity at every level of their organizations:
“To have an open and collaborative culture where creativity and innovation thrive.”
This mission statement expresses the sequence of transforming organizations into places where high performance leadership is the norm, beginning with openness and resulting in innovation.
But how do we realize this first stage of openness? People don’t exactly just become open with each other because senior leadership mandates it to be so.
Openness is made possible through connection.
What Stands In The Way Of Connection?
While most human beings find the greatest meaning and satisfaction in their lives through connection with other human beings, it is not uncommon in the workplace for people who have been working together for years to have only polite and formal relationships with each other, or even relationships tinged with distrust and suspicion.
Yet even in the most complicated work relationships, genuine connection is not impossible to achieve. Remember from our past video on conflict resolution, that creating authentic, open and productive interpersonal relationships at work – relationships that lead to successful outcomes – does not require the individuals in question to become personal friends.
In the ALP, we focus on facilitating authentic connections among participants in the program – as a preliminary step to achieving an open and collaborative environment among them.
How exactly do we facilitate authentic connection? There are different options, but we have found that the most effective course of action is to bring members of work teams through a shared emotional experience.
The Usefulness of an Exhilarating Day Together
At Hallett Leadership, we often kick off our nine-month Accelerated Leadership Program cohorts with a full-day high ropes course adventure, where everyone can engage in experiential exercises together.
We do this because high ropes challenge courses are great environments for quickly forging deep emotional connections among people on work teams. The courses elicit intense emotional states from participants – states such as adrenaline, terror, excitement, and exaltation. Studies have shown that when human beings undergo intense emotional states together, the result can lead to quickly-forged personal bonds and extraordinary communities.
Your exhilarating day for creating new interpersonal connections doesn’t have to be a high ropes challenge course. Consider a group physical or intellectual challenge. Or a hike in a beautiful natural environment culminating in a picnic and discussion about life and aspirations.
Whatever activity you decide upon for interrupting the day to day grind and jumpstarting connection among your people, the key thing is facilitating a context where your people can begin new conversations with each other and lean into vulnerability and openness with each other.
Keep The Conversation Going
Undergoing some sort of shared emotional experience along the lines described above is surely a reliable method of quickly creating deep bonds among members of your work team. Having achieved this, the next step toward developing strong interpersonal relationships at work is facilitating open and forthright dialogue among your freshly-bonded people.
Therefore, bring your people together on a regular basis to dialogue, brainstorm, and exchange feedback with each other.
In the process of forming authentic interpersonal relationships at work, it is necessary for your people to learn how to enter into safe and healthy conflict with each other. Make sure that your conversations include everyone’s voices and opinions. Encourage an environment where people can openly submit perspectives that differ from others – especially members of leadership.
As we have written before, and shall continually encourage everyone to do – engaging in constructive feedback exchanges will sharpen and hone the skillset and overall awareness of each person that participates. It also encourages team members to lean into edges with each other and communicate more directly. The ability to interact at this level without resulting in hurt feelings or conflict is one of the hallmarks of a high performance team.
And it all begins with forging deep, authentic connections among your people.
We hope this discussion has provided some useful ideas for developing authentic and strong interpersonal relationships at work, that can serve as a foundation for the process of developing a culture at your company where high performance leadership is the norm. Please contact us if you would like to explore developing robust and authentic interpersonal relationships among the people of your workforce.