Interpersonal relationships in the work place are important. Not only do they motivate us, but they are the reason we should do things. There are certain approaches an organization should make to enable relationships in their workplace to flourish. Namely, they should hold to specific organizational values, they should commit to hard goals, and they should slack on efficiency every once in a while.
But there is a second approach to relationships that we haven’t yet discussed. We need to know how to develop our own personal relationships in the workplace.
The last post asked the question, “How do I, Renee (that’s my boss), develop a workplace where my employees are going to befriend each other?”
This post asks the question, “How do I, Seth, develop friends among the people I sit next to?”
For some, this question might seem redundant. Most have been taught from childhood how to make friends. It comes naturally. But when we stop to try and explain how to build relationships, the process can seem abstract and obscure.
Using strategies taken from Dale Carnegie’s classic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, we’ll discuss six keys to building relationships in the workplace. Each of these, however, is premised under the understanding that the best way to make friends and build relationships is to convey value to other people. The key to building relationships is remembering and acting upon the importance of people.
Carnegie’s recommendations aren’t complicated, difficult, or revolutionary. The brilliance of them is in their simplicity. The book has received some criticism for teaching people to be manipulative to get what they want out of people. If a person approaches the book as a toolkit to get things out of people, the critics are right. If a person approaches the book as a textbook for interpersonal relationship, if they approach the book to learn how to treat people, then the critics are wrong. Put simply, the book is meant to be used by people who treat people as the end and not the means.
In the book, Carnegie writes about six ways to “make people like you”, but I think that sounds too manipulative. What they really get at is “how to convey value to people”. We’ll steal these approaches for this post. Don’t be surprised if a lot of these sections sound like wisdom you received from parents or mentors while growing up. The short version is this: Be interested, smile, use people’s names, listen, talk about other’s interests, and convey importance on others.
1. Be interested in other people.
Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” If you have ever been in a conversation where the person never took a breath from talking about themselves, you know what Carnegie is getting at.
When you meet someone in the hallway and you ask them how they’re doing, stop to listen. Ask a follow-up. If they tell you about a problem, follow up with them about it later. Show that you care.
Ask serious questions.
2. Smile at your coworkers.
According to Carnegie, a smile says, “I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.” When you smile at your coworker, you tell them that you are glad that you know them. You say that your relationship with them is important. You acknowledge and ascribe value to the person.
But don’t fake it. This is where the difference between means and ends come in. If you see people as a means to get something, you’re smiling for the wrong reason. The right reason is to smile at someone because you genuinely recognize them as important entities. If you don’t smile much, you can force it. But don’t force it because you want people to like you more. Force it because you want the other person to feel liked. It eventually becomes more natural.
By the way, if you are currently smiling at people for the wrong reason, change your reasons.
3. Remember people’s names.
David sat down at his desk after getting his morning coffee. He was logging into his computer when his boss walked by him, gave him a wink, and said “Hey buddy!”. He had been with the company three weeks and his boss had not said his name once, yet.
We’re inclined to put ourselves in David’s shoes. But let’s resist that impulse for a moment. How often do we not take the time to learn someone’s name?
Don’t assume you are the victim. Say other people’s names when you see them. Keep the nicknames (buddy, sport, girlfriend) to the close friends who know that you know their name.
When someone tells you their name, repeat it back to them. “Hey Seth, my name is Melanie.” “Hey Melanie, great to meet you.” Then, incorporate it into the conversation a few times before you part ways.
If you forget someone’s name by the time you see them the second time, ask for it. “Hey there! I am so sorry, I totally forgot your name. What was it again?” Smile while you say it to remind them you’re happy to see them. Don’t call them buddy or friend or pal. Ask for the name again. After you forget the first time, you can’t ask for it again.
If you forget, ask someone else. It’s really not that big a deal. Just take the time to learn the person’s name.
4. Listen to other people.
“To be interesting, be interested”. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the most interesting people are those who have a lot of great stories to tell and have experienced wild things. Those are typically the second most interesting people. The most interesting people are those who listen to us.
Learn to patiently listen to other people. Don’t interject when they take a breath. Listen to their whole thoughts and respond to their thoughts. Don’t try and steer the conversation back to yourself. Keep focused on what they are saying. Don’t do this so they will like you, do this because you want them to be heard.
5. Talk about what interests the other person
You might be noticing some themes with these pieces of advice. They all come up from the assumption that good relationships are built by people who consider others.
When you talk to peers at your office, don’t bring up what you are working on. Don’t mention a recent accomplishment or failure. Ask them about their recent accomplishments. Ask them what they are doing. If you know that a certain person is a big fan of hockey, ask them about hockey. And be interested. Don’t bring something up if you can’t be interested in it.
Note that it is not wrong to talk about yourself, but let the person ask about you.
6. Make the other person feel important.
Don’t think of this one as a separate tactic. See this as the foundation for all the other points discussed. The reason that we are interested in other people, smile, remember people’s names, are good listeners, and talk about the interests of others, is that we want them to feel important. This is one of the foundational needs of humans. If you want to build relationships, don’t focus on what you can get on it, but endeavor to make others feel important.