Understanding & navigating through workplace relationships

Published by mpume on

A relationship is defined as the way in which two or more people or groups are associated to each other, and how they regard and behave towards each other. It is defined by the quality of understanding, respect, trust and predictability that exists between two or more people.

People are relational beings, so developing relationships with each other defines us to a certain extent and gives us a reason to exist by assisting us to become the people we are meant to be. Therefore the quality of relationships we build and encourage are very important. There are different types of relationships, and that includes family relationships- where we are connected with one another through blood or some other kind of affinity; friendships – where we are connected to other people we are not often related to, but we choose to interact with and often we trust these people and share intimate details of each other; workplace relationships where you interact with your colleagues on a professional level solely for the purpose of getting your work done. These are just examples of the many relationships we can list down, but for the purpose of today’s blog, our focus is on cultivating workplace relationships.

Understanding relationships.

I had the privilege of spending some time with my guest, Clive Vanderwagen, a Training Specialist whose focus is on relationships. Clive helped me gain a better understanding of how to develop and cultivate relationships in the workplace. Clive moved into the training space because he is very passionate about people and relationships. What is the meaning of life without relationships? What do we leave behind after you have left the earth? How do you impact other people’s lives? What legacy do you leave behind?

These were some of the very thought-provoking questions our relationship expert posed in trying to bring our attention to the meaning of life without human relationships.  In order for him to understand people, Clive went on a journey to investigate people relationships. His aim? To leave people feeling better after the relationship you develop with them. People always want to connect because that is our nature. We want recognition, and sometimes it can be negative, but we choose the negative than not having recognition at all.

Navigating through relationships in the workplace

Relationships in general are difficult to navigate , there is no formula to a perfect relationship, more so the ones in a work environment. According to Clive, one of the foundations of a relationship is safety. Safety comes only if you trust someone, you give the other person your trust because they make you feel safe. However, it is a difficult dynamic to manage in the workplace because we can’t readily express ourselves truthfully, because we fear being fired or being punished. Moreover there is also a layer of relationships upon which one depends, in order for one to perform their tasks fully, so you tend to tread carefully to avoid rocking the boat. In the workplace, people look out for themselves first because they feel unsafe, so the first person they protect is themselves.

As a word of advice, Clive warned that one should not walk into a job with the assumption that there is a relationship already established. You need to develop and then establish a relationship with your new colleagues. Relationships between employees and management are of substantial value in any workplace, therefore as a leader at work, you should always strive to make your employees or fellow colleagues safe. As a leader, understanding some of these dynamics for the wellbeing of everyone and even the sustainability of the organisation is very key.

How do you separate the relationship from the job?

It’s quite difficult because the persona is wrapped up in the person’s title, for exampleI am a Content Strategist, I’m a Director, etc. So you need to be able to stop seeing somebody for what they can do for you, or PRODUCE. You need to stop seeing the task and see that person as another human being. When someone is late for work for example, you should check in with them on a humanity level, and not based on the task they have to perform, find out if something happened at home that made them late. Are you ok? What happened? Chances are that you will find out that this person is going through a divorce, or maybe they have lost someone very dear to them. Always try to connect with people on a human level, not to say that you must be best friends or anything like that but know the story behind the person you hired to perform a task.

When we make it all about the work/task, the problem becomes that if you no longer feel safe as a human, it’s easy to lose the sense of trust you had with someone and it becomes difficult to restore that trust between the two of you. So as much as we are here for the bottom line, we also need to check in with the human aspect, there’s always more to a person than meets the eye. 

Is there a science behind relationship cultivation?

Psychology is the science behind relationships. There are a myriad of modalities that relationship experts utilise to thoroughly analyse relationships. These include:

  1. Transactional analysis – This is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change.
  2. Transactional Analysis thus brings your attention to self – how you communicate with the world while being aware of how others communicate with you.
  • Emotional intelligence – EQ is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others.
  • Different assessments (self-reports and ability tests) tests to measure levels of emotional intelligence have been discovered in the past years.

Misconceptions or personal opinions?

Just because one is extroverted doesn’t mean people are drawn to them. Just because you like people, doesn’t mean you are good with people. However, there are ways or sciences or modalities of working relationships so that they can be more effective. Such sciences or modalities are what people like Daniel Goleman called emotional intelligence, which speaks about self-awareness, and transactional analysis by Eric Berne which speaks about personal growth and personal change.

In summary, a relationship is about empathy- the ability to see what is in front of me and be able to respond to it or the ability to see what’s inside of me and be able to respond to it; the awareness of self and the awareness of others. Empathy is saying that the other person has a story besides the one that I have decided for them in my head. It gives you a great perspective and the narrative changes.

What to do when in a not “so great” work relationship

  1. Step into self-awareness. Is this relationship bad because I am allowing it? It is often said that you teach people how to treat you. So sometimes you may not be speaking up for yourself and having an emotional element about it. Make it clear to the other person that you don’t appreciate being spoken to like that. And sometimes a relationship may be bad because of your dislike of that person, so how you respond may be as a result of your not liking the other person. Always, check yourself either way.
  • You need to sit down with yourself and ask what it is you may be potentially doing wrong in this relationship or what it is you can do better.
  • Relationships are always about a shift to the person in front of us.  You cannot help someone with how they are dealing with you, but you can help with how you respond to it. Are you treating this person the way they deserve to be treated?
  • Sometimes we might just be dealing with nasty managers, find someone to speak to that you trust and get into an unemotional space with the person you are having problems with so that your relationship doesn’t become toxic.
  • Assess the situation and see if a mediator is needed or if you just need to confront the person yourself?
  • Ask the other person what it is they need from you in order for the both of you to work well together.

In conclusion, what I took from this conversation with Clive is that we need to realise that we work with human beings walking around with a lot of pain. People are not what we concoct in our own heads, there is always more beyond the surface. As much as we are about getting the work done, we also need to treat each other as human beings, as a leader always look out to see how you can relate with people as fellow human beings and not always make it about completing the tasks.

Categories: Experience


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