the ceo magazine, business management,
John R. Stoker, Founder and President, DialogueWORKS, Inc.

When I wrote my book, Overcoming Fake Talk, my first editor commented, “Your first chapter focuses on the importance of results.  But every conversation book I’ve ever read always starts with a discussion about results.  So, how is yours different?” 

Great question!  After a moment, I explained that results are directly impacted by the quality of the relationship, the degree of respect, and the person’s willingness to take responsibility to create what they want. All three components have an impact on results. Ignore the three components and results suffers.

My editor tossed me back the manuscript and said, “Rewrite the book and incorporate that idea from the beginning.  There are no results without relationships, respect, and responsibility.”

A CEO once told me, “Your people will make you or break you.”  With that in mind, I set out to interview a number of CEOs to gain further insight on the importance of building strong work relationships.  Interestingly enough, some declined to discuss the topic, but the most successful had much to say about the importance of relationships in the workplace.  Here are a few of their responses:

Why Are Relationships Important?

Relevance

People want to be part of something great that defines them as relevant, as making a difference. Strong relationships are built as individuals work together toward achieving goals and objectives that will really make a difference for the company, the customer, the individual, and for humanity in general. Identifying a purpose that is greater than the individual is exciting and motivating to all those who will dedicate their best effort toward success.

Contribution

Talented people look for relationships with other talented people with whom they can work, learn, grow, and collaborate.  People connect with people, not organizations. Connection leads to increased contribution.

Trust

Relationships build trust which leads to discretionary effort, people going above and beyond what is required to simply keep one’s job. Individuals who trust each other will go to great effort to support one another to be successful.  

Decision-making

Strong relationships empower individuals to make decisions that company policies and procedures don’t anticipate.  Such decision making practice saves time and increases effectiveness.

Unity

The relationships that build trust cause everyone to want to pull together; a team spirit is created that fosters collaboration and support rather than competition and isolation.

Culture

An organization which focuses on relationship building positively impacts the culture and affects clients, partners, and the community.  Relationships can have an impact far beyond just those with whom you work.

Profitability

Strong relationships make it easier to hold difficult conversations that increase productivity, improve accountability, and achieve desired results. The learning that results from candor and collaboration consistently helps an organization meet financial obligations and goals.

Vision

Managers and company associates can’t support the organization’s vision unless they can relate to the organization’s leader.  The leader is the embodiment of the organization’s vision. A leader’s credibility is supported by their “walk” as well as their “talk.”

Energy

Individuals who understand the organization’s vision and who comprehend their contribution to that vision have a sharpened degree of energy and focus on what they want to achieve, they also work harder to reach their goals.

Satisfaction

People with strong relationships –connected people who feel like they matter to others stay longer, are more effective in their work, and achieve more. They also have fewer sick days.  The results are less money lost in turnover and fewer missed days. 

How do you improve relationships in the workplace?

Here are some suggestions to help you improve your relationships in the workplace.

1. Learn from Them

Many a CEO has learned more on a Friday afternoon walking around and talking to people informally and asking them what was working and what could be improved, than in the more normal course of business.  Visiting casually with people will allow you to learn things you never knew were going on.

2. Appreciate Them

Look for opportunities to specifically tell even the lowest level employee that you appreciate their contribution; ask them a few questions about how things are going and what you could do to make their job better.  Take the time to listen to whatever they may say. Also, look for opportunities to praise those who demonstrate relationships building skills.

3. Know Them

People want to feel that you know and care about them as individuals.  One of the easiest ways to do that is to learn a person’s name and use it whenever you can.  The simple act of learning and using a person’s name will have very positive effects –not only on the person but also those who see you do it.  

4. Show Them Care and Concern

It’s important to care about people, their growth, their career, your career, your mission and objectives.  Look for opportunities to express your care and concern for others by recognizing what people have done and mentioning it to them. Doing so says, “I noticed what you did and I appreciate it.”   

5. Be Honest with Them

Tell people what they need to hear or know and invite them to tell you what you need to hear, not what they think you want to hear. When people don’t know what they think they need to know, they will make up the answers to their own unanswered questions in the worst possible way.

6. Be Vulnerable to Them

Talk about tough issues, your fears, expectations, and your dreams.  Encourage them to do the same.  Sharing these types of things builds trust and forges connections. It’s also important that people feel comfortable sharing their concerns and worries so you can work to resolve them. Then build their belief in what you are trying to accomplish.  Belief builds belief.

7. Defend and Protect Them

Defending the relationships you have built will reinforce those bonds and increase loyalty, both to you and to the company. People want to know that you have their back.

8. Engage Them

Invite questions and answer as best you know how.  If you don’t know the answer, find it and get back to them.  Being transparent and responsive strengthens relationships.

9. Grow Them

Some organizations utilize experienced members to grow and mentor junior employees.  This type of system not only helps establish relationships, but also develops bench strength for the future. Strong commitment from you and your team is required to make this work well.  Half-hearted commitment yields half-hearted results. Also look for opportunities to provide training and new job assignments for those who want to expand their skills.

10. Lead Them by Example

You cannot expect everyone to do what you are not willing to do yourself.  You must be avidly striving to embody the characteristics and behavior that you expect others to adopt.

There is ample evidence that positive relationships have an equally positive impact on results.  Choose one of these items you feel would be a good starting point and take steps to put it into action.  Be deliberate and create a plan for when, where, how, and with whom you will put some of the foregoing suggestions into action.  As you become comfortable with one step, add another.  As you do so, your capacity to do more and be more will increase. 

Building strong relationships takes time and deliberate effort – they don’t just happen on their own.  By making small changes in your interactions with others, you will find that your efforts will yield great results.


About the Author

John Stoker has been helping top professionals develop powerful conversational skills for more than 20 years. He has vast experience in designing strategic change efforts and in creating and implementing training curriculum in support of company-wide improvement initiatives. He holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Behavior and a J.D., and is the founder and president of DialogueWORKS, Inc.

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