After decades of instruction about work and personal life being separate, the truth has finally come to light. For example, the same elements you use to develop relationships off the clock are the same relationship management, networking, and social interaction skills you use to develop your career relationships.
The Society for Human Resource Managers says that if you’re not happy in your work, don’t feel connected to your co-workers, or feel like your company doesn’t “get” you as a person, you are less likely to receive a promotion and more likely to leave the organization within one year. As a result, building key relational skills – the ability to work with a variety of personalities, active listening, and openness to other’s ideas – can yield great results on the job.
Relationship management seems like a very formal term for “having friends” or “connecting” with others. Still, it is important to recognize your own patterns of behavior in the way you interact with your close friends. This is your relationship management style, and it can have a very powerful impact on your career success. For example, the same skills that you use to keep the peace between two friends with opposing viewpoints can also be used to keep the peace with co-workers who disagree, even though the specific strategies will vary from group to group.
In managing your friends, you’ve already learned to work with a variety of personalities and still have successful events. Those skills – letting each side have their say, valuing different opinions equally, finding solutions that serve the interests of the group, and accepting that different doesn’t mean bad – also serve you in the workplace. Professional relationship development and relationship management needs those same skill sets.
You may not consider that the expertise you have built in getting your group of friends to agree to a restaurant for Friday night also translate to the workplace, but they do. Do you not begin with a proposed solution, gather feedback, build consensus, and then decide? It is the same for a project proposal. You manage the different professional relationships involved with a less casual version of those same skills, with the same expected outcome – a final choice that everyone can live with and in which all feel invested.
Networking conjures up images of stiff suits enduring awkward cocktail hours while trading business cards. However, you’re also networking when you have people over for dinner and talk about life. At its core, networking isn’t about collecting cards or trying to get something from someone else. It’s more about building a link between you and another person based on a shared interest, common background, or mutual need.
In your personal life, you can build your network by joining new clubs or making an effort to include new people in your social circle. Sites like Meetup.com run nationally as local platforms for like-minded individuals to organize outings, dinners, or events that bring together people from widely different backgrounds. Join for free, and then build your circle.
Professional networking works in the same way. You have your original circle of associates, but to grow the success and vibrancy of your career, you must continually expand that circle. You can start online with new connections on sites like LinkedIn and move offline, joining industry groups, participating in local business societies, or attending conferences. Make just one new connection in each channel or event where you participate, and just as you see in your personal life, your circle of connections will start to grow significantly, bringing new ideas and opportunities your way.
Throughout everything, you should be working on your softer social skills. Other aspects of relational skills can be quantified – number of connections/friends on social media sites, or amount of events attended – but social skills influence the quality of those interactions. While quantity of relationships will get you a long way in your personal life and at work, it is the quality of those relationships that makes the true difference.
To deepen the quality of your professional relationships, use the same skills that deepen the quality of your personal relationships. This includes refocusing the attention from you to others, listening actively, and being open to the thoughts and ideas of those around you.
Monitor your conversations and interactions with those around you, watching for attempts by your ego to seize center stage. Consciously let others do more sharing, using the active listening tactic of mirroring to indicate your understanding of their views as they’ve expressed them. Put aside the temptation to judge or advise, accepting that others don’t think as you do. Remember, just as in your personal life, others love to be around those who seem to care and be interested in them for the person that they are.
Though it may be challenging to change your interaction style initially, the long-term outcome will be more high-quality relationships. This builds on your networking interactions and smooths the road in relationship management. At the end of the day, you will find yourself with a rich network of loyal friends … but you’ll also have an office full of colleagues who are happy to have you on their team.
The business world and your personal life weren’t meant to be wholly separate. The skills you need in your private life to have fulfilling friendships and a rich social life are also the skills you need to get along and get ahead at the office. Building your capacity for successful relationship management, enhancing your networking abilities, and working on your social skills will help you manage and develop the solid relationships you need to enjoy your work and earn the career advancement you crave.