Most of us interact with dozens of people on a daily basis. In many cases, we make several new contacts every month. Our network continuously expands as we go about our daily routines. If handled properly, these relationships can be an extremely useful tool for advancing our careers. If not done right though, they can also be the biggest hurdle to our success. In fact, I’ve found that one of the best things we can do to build a successful career is to establish lasting relationships with the people we meet along the way. For me, these relationships have proven to be indispensable.

The best things we can do to build a successful career is to establish lasting relationships with the people we meet along the way.

The connections I have made at work have been extremely valuable in helping me advance my career. They have served as references when I’ve looked for a job. They have also been the people that recommend me to their employers or to other people in their network for many other reasons, professional and otherwise. In fact, for a while now, I have not really had to look for work at all. Every time I’ve switched jobs it’s been because someone in my professional network has recommended me for a position.

Some people might call me downright flirtatious with anyone that walks by. I have tried my best to always be building and maintaining relationships. I make friends with people that are my peers. I make friends with people on the other side of the building that I only see on my way to the bathroom. And I make friends with my bosses and their bosses. Why not? Building relationships is no different than when you are interviewing for a job or asking a lady out on a date. The worst case scenario is that you find you don’t enjoy the company of a person or they don’t enjoy your company. No biggie! Keep trying. — Andy 

Benefits to Bridge Building

As you can imagine, this makes finding work a whole lot easier! I think we should look to expand our network every day and work at building lasting connections with the people we encounter. We run into awesome people all the time and we should focus on growing positive, long-term, bonds with as many people as we possibly can. You never know when one of these relationships will help you reach your next goal. In my experience, these relationships make navigating your career and reaching the goals you’ve set for yourself a lot easier to accomplish. At the same time, we should not underestimate the importance of these connections and make sure not to burn any bridges along the way. We spend a lot of time and effort working to build these relationships and it doesn’t make any sense to just throw them away. Let’s look at a few tips to building strong, long-lasting relationships with your coworkers that can help you build your successful career.

Be Yourself

This first thing is really easy, but for some people, it’s extremely hard to do: always be yourself. Always! Odds are you’re a cool cat. You should let people see you for who you are. I am not saying you shouldn’t be professional–just be genuine at all times. If you’re not really a tight-laced, straight and narrow person then don’t pretend to be one at work. Within reason, and when appropriate, you should allow some of your true nature to be visible wherever you are. Don’t be the coworker that is one way at the office but a completely different person in other environments. It makes certain interactions feel fake once people know there are two versions of you. For me, this is a general guideline that I follow in life and I think it applies to work as well. I found it makes people feel like they really know you and not only the buttoned-up version of you. I think it helps garner those closer, longer lasting, relationships that we are trying to build.

Be Attentive

Another really easy but extremely important thing you can do is simply listen to people. I know, this might sound a little silly, but it makes a huge difference. When you’re talking to someone, stay focused and engaged. Listen to what they are saying and participate in the conversation even if it’s not work related. This encourages people to talk to you and makes them feel like they can come to you for personal and professional advice, to chit-chat or maybe just to blow off some steam. All of these interactions are valuable for building a personal relationship that extends beyond work or that particular job. If you can get someone to share three or more personal details about their life with you, they are far less likely to ever actually forget about you. When personal details are shared you are forcing the person to categorize you as something more important in their memory than just another colleague.

Be Helpful

Always be willing to help your coworkers out. Take every opportunity you have to be a resource to others. This might mean helping a coworker figure out a specific technical issue or being a mentor to someone that is more junior than you are. Maybe a coworker just hasn’t worked with a particular tool, technology or process and you can help them figure it out and not have to stumble their way through it. Or maybe you are tall and can be a help to those who are shorter. Whatever your capability is that can be shared, share it when asked. Offer to lend a hand! You should keep your eyes open for opportunities to help someone get out of a jam. Sometimes, these interactions make the most positive impact on your coworkers. It seems like their value is magnified by the size of the problem you are helping resolve. I’ve experienced this from both ends. I know I value the many people that have made an effort to help me figure things out or get me out of a jam. I’ve also seen just how much helping others helps build the type of positive working relationships that I’ve tried to establish.

Accept Feedback

You should always be open to feedback. In most cases, people are actually trying to help you out when they give you feedback or suggestions. Of course, you’ll run into some people that have a different agenda but you should hear those people out as well. Never, ever, ever react emotionally. It only plays into that person’s agenda and makes you look rattled to others. You should always consider the merits of the feedback, discuss it professionally with that person and make a determination on whether to accept it or not based on fact and not emotion.

Never, ever, ever react emotionally. It only plays into that person’s agenda and makes you look rattled to others.

A crucial part of a strong relationship is feeling that you can tell that person when you think they are wrong (or not quite right), and they won’t blow up or just ignore you. I know it makes a huge difference in my work relationships–and personal–when I feel comfortable that if I disagree with that person, we can have a discussion about it and not end up in an argument.

Be Professional

Above all else, be professional. Don’t ever be disrespectful, condescending or aggressive. Treat your coworkers with the respect that they deserve. You don’t want to be the person in the office that people feel they can’t approach. You want your coworkers to feel like they can talk to you and you won’t make them feel uncomfortable. I’ve never really understood why anyone would disrespect their coworkers. This kind of behavior and the negative feelings that it creates can follow you wherever you go and can be very difficult to overcome. I’ve worked with some really smart people that are great at their jobs but they choose to be negative and unprofessional. I’ve never felt comfortable recommending them for other positions. Whenever I am asked if I know someone that does “XYZ,” I don’t consider recommending these people even though they might do it better than anyone else I know. I am just not able to get over the way they treat people and I don’t want to subject others to it. So, don’t be that person.

Understand Relationship Types

There are two types of relationships you can build with people: superficial workplace relationships and deep, long-lasting relationships. The superficial relationships are the most common–where you nod and mumble with one another. When you move to the next job they forget you and you forget them. In that situation really you have two people co-existing with one another but it may as well be that they never existed at all to one another. Then there are the deep long-lasting relationships, the ones where you pick up the phone once a year and it is as if you never skipped a beat. Do you know the difference?  Personal connection. It’s simple. Use your personal skills and figure out what is important to the “other guy”. Then give that person what they need. Also, exchange three or four personal tidbits of information with them. Once you have done this the bridge is built. Now you just need to keep it up with touch points now and then. Ask anyone I’ve known: most of them know nearly all there is to know about me. And most would tell you that I am “unforgettable”. 

I once wore a bright red mohawk, 5.11 OD green tactical kilt, Vibram 5 finger toe shoes, and a red plaid button-down farm boy shirt with pearl snaps while crocheting a Dr. Seuss-looking ‘Merica flag hat at a meeting. Or you might have seen me dressed up in a traditional Indian lungi and head wrap that a friend from India brought to me. Or even better, while working through a frustrating deployment issue I might whip out my banjo and pluck some strings. Some people might just call me an attention-seeking social whore. Or they might call me weird. What they don’t get is that they will *never* forget me for having always made them smile. With each of these people, there is a personal connection made. “You are a one-of-a-kind dude!” — Andy

photo credit: mdbgallery Hardway at night via photopin (license)