Building Relationships at Work (and 4 Types to Cultivate)

The people we work with have an enormous impact on our lives, both personally and professionally. So it’s no wonder that within the professional ecosystem, we manage different types of relationships that benefit us and our work in different ways. A Gallup poll on the state of the American workplace found that positive work relationships have an immediate and tangible impact: “When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.”

There are plenty of apps to help us stay superficially connected to our community, both at work and in our personal lives. But building trust and friendship requires thoughtfulness and emotional honesty that is easier found in real life. So, while it’s a fantastic feeling when you can make friends easily at work, sometimes your workplace relationships require a bit more intention. Here are four types of work relationships to cultivate to improve your work life.

The Mentor

If you’ve never asked a higher-up at your company if you can spend some time in close proximity observing how they work, what are you waiting for? Even if your company doesn’t have an official mentoring program, identify someone you admire and put out the ask. You can also request one-on-one check-ins, and most executives will be happy to pass on knowledge in a work setting. Drew Jones, a senior producer at National Geographic, speaks highly of his company’s mentoring program. He remembers asking to shadow an Executive Producer about 8 years ago. “It was so great to learn from him,” says Jones. And now he participates on the other side of the program.

The Protégé

“We meet every other week to chat,” Jones says of his mentee, “and I bring him along to sit in on some editing and post-production work.” In the future, if Jones needs to delegate part of a project, he’ll have someone at the ready who’s been training as his eyes and ears and knows how he works and communicates. The same Gallup poll on the American workplace also found that the most effective form of management in today’s workplace is coaching. Helping another employee find their strengths and hit their stride is one of the best investments you can make in your extended team. Noticing and complimenting the accomplishments of those coming up in the business helps to create a motivating environment where job satisfaction can thrive.

Friendly Rival

This relationship may be the trickiest to manage, especially when it comes to your own emotions, but it may yield a big payoff. Think of that co-worker who always shows up to meetings slightly more prepared than you or who always stays cool under pressure. If you reframe their presence from “always making me look bad” to “always pushing me to do better” then perhaps the Rafael Nadal to your Roger Federer will push you to win a couple of Grand Slams of your own. As Nadal once said, “If anyone says I am better than Roger, then he doesn’t know anything about tennis.” Now, that’s not being afraid to recognize someone else’s greatness! These become positive work relationships when a company embraces a culture of support and giving credit, and moves away from a model where co-workers bad mouth each other.

Work Spouse

It’s the little things: bringing coffee the way you like it, checking in to see how a particularly tricky project is going, reminding you to get out for some fresh air. A “work spouse” is a friend who offers social-emotional support and can feel the most nourishing on a day-to-day basis. They provide the work “ying” to your “yang” (kind of like Ron and Leslie on Parks and Recreation). Just remember to keep your interactions at work positive and don’t constantly vent to one another.

Put a bit of thought into the types of workplace relationships you cultivate to make the most of your social interactions at work. And if you’re a manager, take steps to foster friendship-friendly workplace culture. It will strengthen your co-workers’ desire and ability to do good work together.

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