Three Tips to Improve Your Relationships at Work

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The Importance of Relationships at Work and How to Improve Them

Moving in the direction you’re aiming for at work, be it by promotion, title change, or new responsibilities, will generally make you feel great. We spend a lot of time and energy worrying about our careers and discussing ways in which we can personally move forward, learn, and grow.

But one thing that is sometimes overlooked when discussing our careers is the relationships in our workplace. Positive relationships can have powerful effects on how you (and your colleagues) feel at work, so it’s important to improve work relationships.

I’m not talking about those relationships where you can chat with one another easily (though that in itself is no small thing). I’m talking about the comfortable – and beneficial – relationship that colleagues can achieve when both parties are working together to do more Great Work.

As a manager, the best thing you can do is improve work relationships and ensure that you maintain such a relationship with your employees. Here are three tips on how to do that.

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1. Tame Your Advice Monster

Many of us have the tendency to give advice when someone comes to us with a problem. It’s only natural, especially in a leadership role, to want to help with an issue we’ve been presented. But when we jump in with advice, we often don’t get to the heart of the issue because we’ve already set off trying to fix what we think is wrong. When you do this, the other person might feel like you’ve taken over, despite your good intentions, or they might feel that your advice is unhelpful. Neither option is good for your relationship.

Edgar Schein, in his book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help, explains that when you jump in to help someone, you essentially put them “one down” in the relationship and put yourself “one up.” In doing so, you categorize yourself as the smart one and the person in control. This status imbalance can have damaging effects on a relationship, as you can imagine.

The best way to increase the comfort of the situation, and therefore improve work relationships, is to let the other person talk.

2. Ask Questions

If you can manage to avoid giving advice, you can then ask your employees coaching questions – questions to find out what they really need from you – instead. By asking questions, you’ll encourage them to come up with their own answers and new options, and you’ll be promoting personal development in the workplace.

Not only does asking questions keep you curious, and therefore make the other party feel valued, but it also encourages learning. Having people answer questions increases their chance of remembering the information involved, and they will likely remember the conversation with you as being productive – and that’s another step toward an especially positive relationship.

3. Coach for Development

Tips #1 and #2 are part of an overall coaching plan. In my book, The Coaching Habit, I outline seven questions you can use to effectively coach your employees in 10 minutes or less. Coaching for performance is about addressing and fixing everyday issues. That kind of coaching makes you a helpful manager, but it’s your ability to coach for development that will make your relationship important to others.

Coaching for development is about coaching the person dealing with everyday issues. This can begin with you simply asking questions, and it is the type of coaching that encourages people to learn, improve, and grow. It makes people happy to have you on their team, which can take your relationships from good to great.

If that isn’t motivation enough, learning to coach well will also help you do less and have more impact.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Michael Bungay Stanier

George Orwell said, “An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.” In that vein, Michael Bungay Stanier was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident,” was sued by one of his law school lecturers for defamation, and managed to give himself a concussion while digging a hole as a laborer… 

Luckily, there’s also been some upside. He is the author of a number of books, the latest and greatest is The Coaching Habit. The one he is best known for with 90,000 copies sold is Do More Great Work. However, the one he’s proudest of is End Malaria, a collection of articles about Great Work from thought leaders that has raised about $400,000 for Malaria No More and reached #2 on 

All of this is done as founder and Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. Their focus is on helping time-crunched managers coach in 10 minutes or less, and their Fortune 500 clients include TD Bank, Kraft, Gartner, and VMWare. 

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.

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