Whether you are trying to improve your relationship with your boss, your colleagues or your clients, there are always small gestures that you can do in order to improve your working relationships.
This article is inspired by a recent comment I received from a consultant almost a year after I had myself done one of these 10 ways to improve working relationships. I’ve included it as number 1…
1. Give Gifts (When Appropriate)
In the summer of 2014, I released an iOS app where the player had to guess the football player from their initials. It’s called INITIALLY, and it’s awesome – check it out ! J
At the end of the project, to thank the developers that I had been using in India for their hard work, I decided to send them a thoughtful gift:
Everyone loves cake, right? Well, they certainly did:
It was not my intention, but the power of the kind gesture came evident straight away. Whilst the cake to be made and delivered to their office only cost around £20, the fee for the updates which the company did for free were much beyond this figure!
However, the true power of the kind, thoughtful gesture like this is its longevity! Over the past few months (almost a year down the line), we have been working on some upgrades with the same company. Due to some people leaving the company, I am now working with a different team leader and a different developer.
It seems that my small gesture had a lasting and widespread impact. Here is a message I received a couple of days ago:
If the developers are still thinking about this small gesture a year on, I am pretty confident that they are still prioritizing my job and making the best efforts that they can. Not a bad result for something that cost only 1-2% of the original fee for the developers.
Just one word of warning: don’t be creepy with your gift giving…!
2. Make Others Feel Involved
The second gesture to improve working relationships is to make others feel involved and engaged. For me personally, this is a huge factor in how well I engage with colleagues, bosses and clients and there is definitely a proportional relationship to how much effort I’ll put into my work as a result.
Imagine your boss comes to you with an identical task, but phrases it in two different ways:
“Client X needs this (a, b, c) done by Thursday. Do it like this (x, y, z…) and make sure it’s done by the deadline.”
“Hey, I need your input on something. Client X have asked for a, b, c and I was hoping that we could work together on delivering and exceeding their expectations. What do you think is the best way we can approach this? I was thinking x, y, z – what do you think? Can you think of any other methods we could use? The client needs it done by Thursday – by implementing these ideas together, I really think that we can impress them”
I know that if I feel engaged on a project, especially if some of the ideas are my own (or even if I THINK that some of the ideas are my own), I will produce much higher quality work and much more likely to do what the client needs.
In fact, this level of engagement had a massive impact on me as an employee and colleague, and I know that it does for most people. Employees with a high level of engagement look forward to coming to work to perform well on projects that they care about. Employees with a low level of engagement feel like this:
Next time you engage with your colleagues, think about this one.
You may have noticed that I did this again with the Team Leader in the screenshot above: “I think we are building something here that we can all be proud of”. This hopefully makes the developers feel more engaged and involved in the project.
3. Say Thank You
And one last gesture that is also in that screenshot is two little words which can be so important in maintaining strong personal relationships: “thank you”.
In my past career at a Big4 professional services firm, this was something that was all too often missing from the working day. If someone has done something that you appreciate, not only should you provide positive feedback (see point 9), but you should pair that with a verbal, or even visual, display of your gratitude.
There are not many gestures in the world more powerful and poignant thank a genuine, heartfelt thank you! Just imagine how good this person felt when they received this note:
4. Remember Names & Facts
A very simple one here, but make sure you remember the names of your colleagues, suppliers and customers. If they are called Steven, but introduce themselves as “Steve”, then make sure that you use the name they prefer.
You’d be surprised the impact that this can have. People notice when you get it right, and they notice even more when you get it wrong.
A friend of mine, Alison Gale, often gets called “Gale” as her first name in e-mail communication, even with colleagues and people who she has previously corrected on the matter. Given the fact that she recounts this to us when it happens, and how irate it makes her, you can be sure that’s its doing very little in building a strong working relationship.
It’s even better to remember little facts about people. For example, do they have children? What are they interested in? If you can speak to someone that you haven’t for a few weeks or months and ask them how they are getting on with their triathlon training, that person will instantly warm towards you with an obvious knock-on impact on your working relationship.
However, as with the name, just make sure that you don’t get it wrong…
5. Be Helpful
Often you’ll find yourself in a position in the office where a co-worker needs assistance in some way. If you can be the hero of the day and help them resolve their problem, then you’ll shoot up in their estimations, which will inevitably lead to a more fruitful working relationship in the future.
This could be anything and might only take 5-10 minutes for you to help out, but will have a much more long lasting effect.
It could be anything at all. If you know how to fix the photocopier, then lend a hand. If you know the best place to order in sandwiches for a lunch time meeting, then share your knowledge! Who knows, maybe you’ll even get a free (but slightly less creepy looking) sandwich:
But seriously, don’t be afraid to ask: “can I help you with that?” or “can I help with anything?”. You’ll be amazed at what paths might open.
6. Show An Interest
This gesture has been touched upon in numbers two and four above. In getting other people engaged and remembering small facts about them, you are automatically showing interest in their business.
However, I would recommend that you take this to another level and also show interest in what they are doing professionally. Ask your colleagues “what are you working on?” and this could open up any number of possibilities and advantages:
- They’ll be flattered that you are showing an interest in what they are doing and will enjoy talking to you about it (thereby making them yet more engaged in their work)
- You may be able to help in some way or offer constructive advice which they would appreciate
- Perhaps it will open new opportunities to get involved with new projects or new clients
- You could end up learning something new
The only downside is if the project that the person is working on is either confidential or extremely time pressured. If this is the case, they may not be that keen on sharing what they are doing.
However, on the other hand, if your colleague is extremely time pressured with a certain project and you can look back at number 5 from this list and lend a hand…
7. Teach Someone Something
Being helpful is one thing (see number 5), but teaching someone something is another powerful gesture which can have very long lasting effects.
Personally, I noted this in my past employment as I would often help colleagues with Excel problems. However, rather than just “fixing” the problem, I’d always make sure I went that extra hurdle to be helpful and actually teach the person how to do something new in Excel or how to avoid a similar problem in the future.
This often took 10 minutes longer than just fixing the issue, but that investment was always worthwhile in building up the goodwill for future projects or engagements.
Also, by doing things like this, you can make a name for yourself in the office – in a good way!
That person might end up saying to their, or your, boss: “Oh, Graham helped me out with something like that a couple of weeks ago”. Not only are you referred to in a positive light as being helpful, but it opens up new opportunities to work and impress other people.
Granted, you may not be as awesome as this teacher, but I’m sure your efforts will be greatly appreciated nonetheless:
8. Anticipate & Be One Step Ahead
If you want to help your boss, colleagues, teams or clients, it’s great to follow the advice above and be helpful by responding to their problems or what they tell you they need.
However, the biggest impact will come when you can anticipate what they need even before they know that they need it.
Again, this could be in any field, but the key is understanding the pain of the person you are trying to help and being the solution to that pain. If you can do that before they work out what the exact pain is, then you’ll be an absolute hero!
9. Give Positive Feedback & Ask How To…
This goes one step beyond the simple “thank you”. It is amazing to hear from a boss, colleague, team member, client, supplier or even a stranger how awesome you are! Maybe be a little less forceful that this guy though…
So, tell people. Feedback is all too often saved for formal evaluations and most people focus on the negatives. For instance, you’ll notice on tripadvisor or amazon comments that people are much more likely to leave feedback if it’s negative.
However, positive feedback is one of the easiest ways to build strong and long-lasting working relationships. If you were impressed with someone for something they have done, tell them explicitly why and how it helped you. Just their smile and gratitude should be payback enough, but you’ll find yourself benefitting from much more than that in the long run.
Also, another good technique it so say: “x, y or z was awesome – can you please show me how you did that”. This combines positive feedback with engagement (number 2) and will make the person you are asking feel awesome about themselves. And, you’ll also learn something new! A win-win-win!
10. Never Shirk On The Tea Round!
You can do number 1 thru 9 without fail, but none of this will matter if you mess up with number 10 (especially in a British office):
Whether you are the intern or the CEO, NEVER shirk on your tea round. End of.
And remember, it’s the small gestures that count the most:
If you’ve got any other ideas for small gestures which have long lasting impacts on working relationships, then I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below or get in touch with us via facebook, twitter or via email.