“Teddy Roosevelt once said: ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.” -Leslie Knope, Parks & Recreation
After being in one place consistently for a while, I feel like I have made some great connections with my coworkers. Most of these relationships grew organically, but as I think back I feel like certain things I did helped them grow stronger than they would have on their own. Here is what I have learned works:
1. Give compliments often.
This one might seem simple or awkward depending on how outgoing you are, but once it becomes a habit it is so rewarding. Ninety-nine percent of the time a simple compliment will make that person’s day. Sometimes we get the urge to make a nice comment but complacency bogs us down. Think about all the times you’ve admired an acquaintance’s outfit in the office kitchen but felt too awkward, shy, or even lazy to say something?
For people I don’t know well I’ll compliment something they’re wearing or their hair/makeup. For closer co-workers I try to make what I say more meaningful, e.g. “You are great at speaking up during meetings,” or, “I wish I was as organized as you.” At the end of the day, we just don’t know what people are going through and our words can have a huge impact. I’m not saying to make up stuff to say, but I am saying to be observant and when you genuinely like something that is within reason, share it.
2. Compliment people behind their back.
I read this somewhere and while I had already been doing it to some extent, seeing it in writing encouraged me to be more intentional about it. Think about the last time someone said something nice to you that had actually come from another person, e.g. “So and so said you did a great job yesterday on the presentation!”
That is an amazing feeling for two reasons. One, the person who shared something about you was giving their genuine, positive feedback not even knowing you would hear it. And two, the person telling you this not only heard the compliment but also agreed enough to share that with you.
Saying nice things about other people is an easy way to pay it forward. Don’t do it to expect something in return or time it to somehow get on their good side. It’s all about making this a habit so that you automatically share good things about your coworkers with others. People are going to gossip and spread information anyway, so give them something good to talk about.
3. Empower the new guy.
I’ve seen this come up countless times already in my young career. Because people are human and bring their insecurities to the workplace, they pick on the new guys. I’m not necessarily talking about out-right bullying or being cliquy. I am more-so referring to the knowledge gap between the new and the old employees, and how the latter reinforce that diachotemy. It’s as if the more seasoned employees feel threatened by a new person rising to the same level as them. They want to feel superior because of the time and energy they spent crawling their way up from the bottom. Why should the new person have it so easy?
But here’s the thing. You have to remember how you felt in that position- lost, frustrated, overwhelmed by all you didn’t know. You were likely searching for a lifeline and either a few kind souls helped you out or you had to muddle your way through. Realizing you are on the same team and that both of you can succeed at the same time makes it much easier to lend a helping hand. Tossing aside your pride and being that person for someone, sharing your knowledge and helping them in the ways no one helped you, is a really gratifying experience.
4. Be honest.
This one is a bit tricky because it goes beyond just being truthful. You don’t want to be too vulnerable and overshare in a professional setting, but you do want to be open enough so you can improve as an employee. Honesty is helpful in a few different scenarios, but especially with new people and especially with management.
It’s a good policy for new people because it ties in really nicely with my previous point. When a new person is struggling and they hear someone being vulnerable and saying “I also struggled when I was in your shoes,” it is a lifeline to them. I know because I had that exact experience. I remember feeling super overwhelmed and alone, but when a coworker had expressed her similar situation I felt relieved.
Honesty when working with management is also key. Aside from the obvious ethical reasons, being real with your manager helps them help you. If you are struggling or have an issue you need help working through, hiding it is not going to help. Eventually there will be symptoms of your problems that will escalate the situation even further.
If you have too much on your plate for example and don’t say anything, this may lead to mistakes that are brought to your boss’s attention. It’s better to be up front, even if you’re scared of the consequences, then to let things simmer and then quickly come to a boil. I’ve learned that being honest will build trust that bleeds into other areas of your relationship.
5. Remember to follow-up.
I think a big reason we get stuck in the small-talk loop with certain people is because we fail to follow-up on the short conversations we do have. A lightbulb moment I had came as a result of a quick bathroom conversation with an unfamiliar coworker. We were both drying our hands and sharing our weekend plans. That could have been a forgettable conversation with someone I barely knew, but when I saw her the following Monday, I made a point to ask her if she ended up enjoying the movie she was planning on seeing. That led to a fun conversation that completely broke the ice and made room for future ones.
It’s really as simple as showing someone that you actually listened and cared about what they had to say when you previously spoke. If you don’t make a point to do this, you essentially “start over” when you next see them and it stays in the small-talk loop of “How are you? Good, thanks.” You don’t have to have life-altering conversations with every aquantainces you come in contact with, but it’s always nice to make that connection when you can.
If you’re ever in doubt about how to build lasting ties with coworkers, these five steps are a good start. I have only been in my position for about a year and a half, but having these habits has greatly improved the quality of my relationships. It has made working at the company fun and rewarding for me because I get to do it alongside other people I’m close with. As Leslie Knope says in the last episode of my favorite show, “…what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”