How To Build Relationships In The Workplace As A Leader

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Did you know that 80% of employees report that their relationship with their supervisor significantly impacts their job satisfaction

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping workplace dynamics. Strong leadership is not just about guiding workflow, and not even just about effective communication (although that plays a big role); truly effective leadership is also about cultivating connections that enhance teamwork, morale, and overall productivity. 

Soft skills are a major part of professional development courses for a very good reason, and understanding how to build relationships in the workplace is key to happy, engaged staff. Because happy, engaged staff produce better results. 

Leaders often want to learn how to communicate with influence, but relationship building is more than just clear communication. Conversation plays a key role in creating an environment where your team feels appreciated, welcome, and comfortable to bring the best version of themselves to work – this is why building relationships in the workplace matters. 

The role of leadership in relationship building

Leadership can make or break an organisation. It shapes the entire culture and interpersonal dynamics of any workplace. Effective leaders understand that their approach to relationship building can either help or hinder the organisation’s culture. By setting a tone of respect, trust, and open communication, leaders establish the foundation for robust workplace relationships. 

When the focus is on the growth and well-being of the team, the organisation will often see high levels of engagement and cooperation among their employees. These leaders prioritise the needs of their team, facilitate personal development, and in doing so, build strong enduring relationships based on mutual respect and common goals. 

Don’t underestimate the power of conversation

It’s really easy to get bogged down in the more formal side of things when we talk about communication in the workplace. How to write effective emails, how to communicate your own needs, how to influence others. But there’s another crucial part of communication that sometimes gets lost in a busy work environment: conversation. 

Conversations happen around us all day. We’re involved in plenty of them ourselves, but often we can underestimate just how important they are. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is assuming they can’t have meaningful conversations with their team. They feel a need to project themselves as a figure of authority, which of course is somewhat necessary. But that doesn’t mean they can’t interact with their team on a more human level. 

Conversation is all part of building an inclusive workplace where people feel comfortable. And it’s no secret that happy staff are better performers. 

Strategies for leaders to build strong relationships 

Building effective relationships in the workplace as a leader calls for thoughtful strategies and deliberate actions that build trust, openness, and mutual respect… and gets rid of any of those nasty office politics we all hate!  

1. Get to know your team

How much do you actually know about your staff? Not just how they perform at work or the personality they bring to the office; how much do you really know about them? 

Often as a leader, it can be tricky to create a balance. There’s a common misconception that you can’t be friendly with your staff because it’ll lead to them taking advantage of your good nature. But when team members feel their manager takes a genuine interest in their life, it increases their engagement at work considerably. 

This doesn’t mean you have to be everyone’s best friend, but showing your team that you view them as complete, complex human beings rather than just a number is a great way to build a solid relationship. Learn the names of their partner or children, ask them how they spent the weekend, and show a genuine interest in their life outside of the office walls. 

2. Give praise and recognition

Everybody wants the recognition they deserve when it comes to the work they do. A simple thank you can go a long way. In fact, research indicates that 79% of people who quit jobs do so because they feel they don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Often when businesses get this type of feedback, they often jump to implement a rewards and recognition program, but sometimes it just doesn’t need to be that complex. They’re looking for more meaningful, authentic conversations. 

Have regular one-on-ones, maintain open lines of communication, and create an environment where feedback is freely given and received. A simple acknowledgement and genuine thank you at the end of a difficult and busy day can go a long way in increasing job satisfaction and engagement. 

3. Inspire and motivate

Inspiring and motivating your team isn’t all about dramatic speeches and encouragement. Sometimes, it’s the smaller conversations that inspire people the most. 

If you have a team member pursuing a promotion or a new role within the organisation, sharing an honest conversation can have just as much impact as formal mentoring sessions (which are also important!). 

If you were in their position before getting promoted yourself, let them know you understand. Share some stories of your previous job pursuits. Take the formality out of the conversation and create an environment where everybody can be inspired to achieve their goals. 

4. Keep the team engaged

Engagement is more than just keeping busy; it’s about feeling involved, valued, and essential to the team’s success. Organise regular team-building activities that are not only fun but also incorporate collaboration that improves teamwork and communication. Creating inclusive spaces makes a world of difference in creating positive relationships at work. 

5. Listen actively

There are two sides to every conversation; make sure if you’re on the listening side, you’re actively listening. This means listening to someone and being present in the conversation, not just hearing their words while thinking about something else. 

When you’re talking to staff, allow them to speak, and really listen. Acknowledge that you’re listening and understanding their point of view. Even if it’s just a casual conversation about what happened on the weekend, it’s important to really take in what someone says. 

Best of all, when you actively listen to somebody, they can tell. This means they’ll be more inclined to chat with you, and that’s how you learn more about your people. 

6. Be open and honest

There’s a lot to be said about being open and honest in your conversations. This is when conversations are at their best. 

A tyrannical approach where leaders are feared just isn’t sustainable these days. Employee engagement is such a key factor in an organisation’s success, and staff are often looking for more human leadership. This is where honest conversation comes in.  

If you don’t have all the answers, say so. If you can’t grant somebody’s leave application, honestly explain why. Your team members respect you a lot more if they can trust you to always be straight with them. The result is a team that also feels safe being honest with you. 

7. Allow for feedback

Ask before you act. There’s often a temptation to just go ahead and do what you think is right for your staff. This is admirable, but it’s not always the best course of action. 

For instance, if you learn that a team member is facing challenges with HR regarding their pay, it may be tempting to intervene directly. But it’s more effective to first chat with your team member. Discuss their concerns and understand the core of the issue. 

The same can be said if you know that someone is having a conflict with another team member. Rather than coming in over the top and trying to solve things, take the time to have a conversation. It not only clarifies a situation; it cultivates a caring, positive work environment. 

8. Celebrate important events

Celebrate the birthdays and personal achievements! Acknowledging the moments that matter creates good working relationships. And if you don’t know about the important events? Go back to our first point! It’s the casual conversation that helps you become a better leader. 

Strengthen your leaders

Strengthening the leadership skills within your organisation is key to building effective relationships in the workplace. MCI Solutions offers programs specifically designed to upskill leaders and ensure they foster great work relationships.
Check out our online leadership and management courses and develop inspirational leaders today!

April 29, 2024

By Dr. Denise Meyerson

Dr. Denise Meyerson is the founder of MCI and has 30 years' experience in vocational education. In that time, she has developed deep expertise in the design and delivery of a range of qualification programs to major corporates and to job seekers via in-person learning methodologies as well as innovative digital learning experiences.