Building Relationships in the Office

Not sure what to do or what not to do when dealing with co-workers at your new organisation? Here are some handy tips.
Anne Grace Savitha
Writer, gradsingapore

In the working world, you will encounter people from all walks of life, with different personalities, and equally different working styles. Learning to work with all these different individuals and building relationships with them will be a key part of the early years of your career, where getting along with others is a key part of ensuring you have a healthy workplace environment to thrive.

That said, as a fresh graduate, building these relationships might seem a little overwhelming at first. How do you start forming connections with others, especially if office politics are involved? Here are some quick pointers.

1. Avoid gossip

Office politics all start with one thing: Gossip. The back-and-forth of “he said, she said,” rumours, and hearsay result in factions, drawn lines, and falsehoods.

As a new member of the team, you may feel pressured or enticed to join in on office gossip over lunch breaks or chats during lulls at work – perhaps out of curiosity, or the pressure to feel as if you need to “belong” to a specific group of co-workers.

But it’s best to avoid this temptation altogether; joining in on office gossip will only bring more trouble in the long run than it is worth. After all, office politics will exist in some form in every workplace, no matter how cordial or supportive the overarching workplace culture may be.

Taking part in office gossip only contributes to that issue, and gossip has the tendency to take a toxic turn very fast. An offhand comment about how so-and-so failed to deliver on one project, for instance, can quickly turn into a protracted campaign to destroy that person’s reputation as more and more people weigh in on his or her perceived failings and the stories get increasingly salacious over time as each teller tries to outdo the other.

No one likes workplace politics because it only serves to distract everyone from their real jobs – so do your part to not contribute to that problem. There are often multiple sides to every story, so it is always wise to hold off on forming opinions until you have a better understanding of the full picture.

Moreover, as an early career starter, you definitely do not want your personal reputation to be that of an office gossip-monger. And if you ever feel the temptation to join in on gossip, consider that it is very likely that someone else is already gossiping about you! So remember the Golden Rule, and don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you.

2. Make attempts to socialise with colleagues

No one is an island, and this is especially true in the workplace! Co-workers primarily work in teams, so having good relationships with as many co-workers as possible will definitely give your productivity a boost. This won’t just happen by itself, though – you need to make a conscious effort to socialise and build those relationships.

It all starts with small talk. Begin by introducing yourself to others early on in your job. If something on their desk catches your eye, try asking them about it; getting people to talk about their backgrounds and their interests is always a great way to break the ice. The bottom-line is that you need to steel yourself and be willing to make the first move, as nerve-wracking as it may seem.

Do your best to be genuinely interested your co-workers’ lives. Ask them how their weekends went, or wish them well if they fall sick. Get them talking about their families or hobbies, or ask them to share stories about their experiences in their field. After all, you’ll actually be spending more time with these people than your friends and family! Taking the time to get to know them not only makes for a more pleasant work environment, but also ensures that you’ll have an easier time working with them.

A good habit to cultivate early in your career is to never eat lunch alone. Always try to spend your lunch breaks eating with someone, or with groups of other co-workers. You’d be surprised how effectively this can help in deepening connections with your fellow colleagues.

3. Be humble

“The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk,” Roman orator Cicero once said. Humility is always an attractive trait to practice in the workplace regardless of how much you may have accomplished, or where you came from.

There may be topics that you know more about compared to your co-workers, especially if you were hired specifically to fill a more specialised role. This knowledge, however, does not entitle you to act like a know-it-all when interacting with your co-workers. Neither do other past accomplishments like which university you went to, what awards you’ve won in the past, or what qualifications you have.

Remember that no one likes a know-it-all, so acting like one is a sure way to put others off! At the end of the day, you are still a newcomer, and there is likely plenty that you don’t know. So stay humble, and remember that there is always something new to learn. Make the effort to ask questions and learn from others. Even if someone teaches you something that you already know, thank them for their help anyway – it shows that they cared enough to want to share their knowledge with you.

Likewise, try to share your own knowledge with your co-workers as well. Adding value to someone else’s life is a great way to invest in your relationship with them, and may also make them more willing to share things with you. Besides, teaching someone else is a great way to improve your own knowledge of a topic because it forces you to make sure you really understand what you’re talking about before you share it with someone else.

We are all attracted to people with positive attitudes and a genuine willingness to learn. Make that a key part of your personal reputation as an early career professional, and you will continue to win friends in the workplace and grow along the way!