Just as puppies are not just for Christmas…. 

With Valentine mania in the air, why not move the spotlight away for a moment from our private relationships and take a look a how we work and develop brilliant relationships in a professional context?

Whether it’s right or wrong, the health of our professional relationships at all levels of an organisation is the key to success, whatever that success may be; whether it’s getting the job done, delivering strategic results or career progression.   Our relationships at work can be the accelerator to move us forward or the handbrake that slows us down.

Let’s face it; real, authentic relationships are not formed in a day, or just during offices hours of 9-5, or through a client relationship plan.  Real relationships are built on trust that develops over time to a point of tolerance… and this is where we reach the upper echelons of a relationship, which takes patience, a sense of perspective and an open mind.

 So, what is a real relationship?

How about… sharing real feelings and stories? Or sharing successes and failures, or getting to know others on a more personal level, such as learning about their hobbies or interests, or about their family? Or how about mixing our relationships at all levels of the organisation and going out socially?

Developing real relationships with colleagues will involve investing time and becoming more conscious of the health and depth of the relationship. You will know when you have a real relationship when the following start to happen:

  1. Possibilities and ideas are freely debated… without judgement
  2. There is a sense of commitment and accountability is shared
  3. Action takes place and results are delivered

Sounds good, but where to start?

Be mindful that our relationships are never in a constant state, in fact they can improve or deteriorate in a single conversation… consider an important personal relationship in your life and have a think about the last conversation you had with that person. During that conversation did you strengthen or weaken the relationship? Maybe only in a very subtle way, but for sure it moved in one direction or the other.

With this in mind, start mapping out your network of relationships and put them into categories:

  • Promoters – your allies
  • Demoters – your adversaries
  • Indifferent – those people you don’t have a relationship with right now, but who perhaps you should get to know

 Now ask yourself two questions:

  1. Where do you need to improve the relationship?
  2. Where do you need to develop a relationship?

Make a conscious effort to engage with these colleagues to start building real relationships by following these three simple steps:

Engage in positive enquiry:
All great relationships begin with an exchange of information about one another. When this is done well it forms a solid platform and greatly influences the ultimate course of the relationship.

Be relentlessly curious
This is where we begin to show interest in what the other person has to say and ask follow-on questions. Sometimes this interest is genuine; sometimes we might exaggerate it a tiny bit for the long-term health of the relationship.

Show genuine empathy
This is the crucial stage. This is where we show genuine understanding of the experiences, opinions or beliefs the other person has. Empathy is not about agreeing with a person’s point of view or having experienced it personally, it is about listening and intellectually understanding. A lack of effective empathy is the most common cause of relationship breakdowns.

Does it work all the time?
Of course not. Not all people want new friends and not all people want to cross boundaries or take the extra steps to invest in relationships. But do keep in mind this principle: “You can’t control the engagement of others but you can decide your own”.


Remember, the depth of real relationships can take years to build, but at the same time they can be destroyed in a heartbeat.


Happy Valentine’s Day one and all!

Karen Taplin


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