Relationships at work are third-level relationships.
First level relationships are familial ones, all the way from the family in your house that you grew up with to your cousin Wanda in Oklahoma. Second level relationships are close friends and associates, schoolmates, neighbors, etc.
But the people that we work with are not ones that we would have chosen. Even in an era of choosing yourself, or four-hour work weeks, the vast majority of us still work under conditions that resemble the ones that our grandparents worked under, albeit with less pollution and physical effort.
And, for the foreseeable future, since human beings are going to continue to build organizations, establish and maintain hierarchies, and engage with mechanisms of active and passive social control, there will always be workplaces.
With that being said, the question becomes, how does a person build better work relationships? With everything that we now know about neuroscience, psychology, the genetic code, and even the world of software and computers, developing the resources to build better workplaces should be easy. But it’s not. And what’s even more distressing is that the most common solution proposed, with access to all that knowledge and data, is to replace humans with software programs and/or mechanical objects.
Robots are fun and AI is coming, but we are a long, long way from building something—well—more human than human. So, here are the top five ways to build better relationships, one human to another:
- Empathy is huge—and we don’t mean in the “touchy-feely” way that empathy is often thought of. In a workplace culture, empathy begins with Wheaton’s Law and ends at actively listening to someone else. Even if you disagree with them.
- Do emotional labor—we wrote about this last previously, but it bears repeating: in the economy that we all work in—no matter if we are co-working with others or on a distributed team—doing the hard work of caring, listening and acting out of self-interested selflessness is the only way forward.
- Remove the fear—acting out of fear: of getting fired, of irritating a boss, or of confronting a co-worker, has to be jettisoned. Fear is a common reaction when things that matter to us (i.e. our values, our needs our emotions, etc.) are threatened. But, the brain only knows what we tell it. So tell it good, factual self-talk, rather than allowing biases and false ideas to fill the brain space.
- Lead on doing the hard things—this is the 2nd hardest thing to do in building better work relationships because there are so many things that we would rather avoid. But doing the hard things that are also the right things, is the only way that an organization can survive. Which leads to the last thing…
- Leave if it doesn’t fit—most of the pushback that we get around the five things comes down to this statement “If I do all of these things that you suggest and nothing changes, not even the place I work, then what do I do?” This statement reveals a common workplace false parallel: A person’s value is not determined by their work. There are other positions, cultures and value systems represented in other workplaces out there. And if you’ve already done the hard work of building better work relationships, do you think that this work will make you less employable in the future, or more employable in the future?