Michael Bungay Stanier’s secrets on how to build positive relationships at workpositive relationships at work
“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success” - Henry Ford.
We spend roughly 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime. So, it’s understandable that positive workplace relationships should be a necessity, not a bonus.
In fact, a healthy workplace culture is the secret to any successful business. When people get along well with one another, they’re more likely to collaborate better, work efficiently and stay loyal to the organisation.
Best-selling author and coach, Michael Bungay Stanier highlights in his upcoming June 2023 book release ‘How To Work With (Almost) Anyone’ the pillars for setting up successful working relationships. This includes knowing how to navigate dark spots, understanding how you communicate and staying curious.
In light of Michael Bungay Stanier’s 2023 live virtual masterclass held on the Growth Faculty platform, we’ll unpack what good workplace relationships look like, and 6 ways to form them with your coworkers.
Why Are Good Workplace Relationships Important?
Creating and maintaining strong workplace relationships is crucial.
When we get along well with our colleagues, we work better as a team, have stronger workplace morale, greater productivity, and job satisfaction. In fact, studies show that employees who have a good friend at work are 7x more likely to be happy and engaged in their work.
A good working relationship requires building trust, inclusion, self-awareness, respect and open communication with coworkers and managers. This creates a psychologically safe workplace where employees are comfortable speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.
On the other hand, if team members don’t get along, it creates a toxic workplace culture of little to no trust, low job satisfaction, burnout and even poor mental health. This impacts your motivation and holds you back from doing your best work.
7 Ways To Build Strong Workplace Relationships
“Take the responsibility to be the agent of change in relationships that matter to you” - Michael Bungay Stanier.
Workplace relationships dictate the way you collaborate with colleagues, how you connect with clients and your overall happiness and success in your career. But building good working relationships isn’t always easy.
As Stanier highlights, “Not every relationship can be rainbows and unicorns and free-flowing ginger beer”. They involve patience, self-awareness, and allowing time for colleagues to ‘get’ you and for you to ‘get’ them - but it’s worth the investment.
Here’s 7 helpful tips to build strong and healthy, clean and clear working relationships:
1. Listen, Actively
In his best-selling book ‘The Coaching Habit’, Michael Bungay Stanier highlights that by saying less and asking more, we can elevate our communication skills with coworkers.
After all, quality, two-way communication is the foundation of any healthy personal or professional relationship.
Actively listening to what your coworkers have to say and responding respectfully helps you understand problems and collaborate better to find solutions. Stanier suggests asking seven key open-ended questions to get the ball rolling.
Using these active listening techniques helps others feel heard and emotionally supported. It also demonstrates that you’re patient and interested to hear what the other person has to say, creating a bond of trust and respect.
2. Avoid Gossip
“Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.” – Patrick Lencioni.
Engaging in office gossip is the fastest way to erode workplace relationships. It fuels a toxic workplace culture that can lead to backstabbing, bullying, employees taking time off work and a general absence of psychological safety.
Bungay Stanier notes that while it is tempting to bring gossip into the workplace, it doesn’t help you achieve anything meaningful. He suggests that to foster a healthy work environment, we should avoid talking about coworkers behind their backs and instead focus on our own thoughts and decisions.
“Just telling someone what you don’t like or reaffirming another does not actually lead to growth. Instead, we need to focus on what can be controlled, mainly in our own mind, thoughts and decisions.” - Michael Bungay Stanier.
If an issue does arise with a coworker, talk to them about it directly in a polite and honest way. If the issue prevails, try calling a meeting with a superior and the individual to address the issue in a professional manner.
3. Be Consistent
There’s nothing worse than a coworker who continuously fails to deliver on deadlines, especially in a team environment. As Influence at Work UK CEO Steve Martin taught delegates in his masterclass for Growth Faculty, when coworkers perceive you as inconsistent, they’ll start to believe you’re unreliable and untrustworthy – even if that isn’t true.
Practice consistency in the workplace by always meeting deadlines, completing tasks you set out to or attending events. It demonstrates that you’re dependable, reliable and hold yourself accountable, creating the foundations for a trustworthy relationship.
4. Be Self Aware
“Without [EQ], a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader” - Daniel Goleman.
Building close relationships is almost impossible without well-rounded self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ).
Emotional intelligence is a soft skill that makes us aware of our strengths, weaknesses, wants and motivations. In the workplace, EQ allows us to take responsibility for our actions, and not let our emotions negatively impact those around us.
“If staff feel that their managers understand their problems and issues, recognize their abilities and talents, trust their managers, and have effective business relationships with their managers, they will help their managers, so the quality of the relationship between manager and staff will be increased.” - Soleimani & Einolahzadeh.
To improve our emotional intelligence, Bungay Stanier says we need to focus on ‘staying curious a little longer’. This helps us better identify and respond to the emotions of others.
Without curiosity and self-awareness, you’ll struggle to navigate difficult situations and create a negative environment in the workplace.
5. Be Collaborative
Being open and willing to collaborate with other colleagues is essential for healthy workplace relationships. It shifts the traditional ‘go it alone’ business mentality to ‘working together to achieve a common goal’.
To collaborate with coworkers effectively, Michael Bungay Stanier recommends co-writing an ‘operating manual’. This manual clarifies the roles and responsibilities of team members, and how you’ll work together. This helps us communicate clearly, bring out the best in others, and bring out the best in ourselves. It also mitigates the risk of misunderstandings occurring further down the track.
6. Ask For Help
Asking for help at work can be tough, but the skills you’ll develop and the stronger relationships you’ll foster with your coworkers makes it worthwhile.
Asking for help shows that you’re willing to take initiative when you’re unsure, instead of completing poor quality work. It shows that you’re willing to be vulnerable with your coworkers, and that’s where positive, trusting relationships develop.
Asking for help may also foster the introduction of workplace coaching program. Coaching helps reinforce an employee's strengths and identify areas for improvement. Bungay Stanier notes that instead of showing and telling, coaching is about teaching employees ‘how to fish’. It provides employees with the skills, knowledge and tools they need to flourish.
7. Be Aware Of Your Advice Monster
Michael Bungay Stanier notes that during conversations, we’re often temped to jump in and offer advice at the first chance we get.
However, this can stifle workplace relationships in a number of ways. It robs employees of the opportunity to come to their own conclusions, and creates a reliance on you as the answer to all their problems.
Instead, Stanier suggests we need to be aware of our ‘Advice Monster’ and stay curious for a bit longer. Go a minute without jumping in to offer advice, and instead ask another question like ‘what’s the real challenge here for you?’.
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