Your technical skills and know-how are essential to landing jobs and completing tasks at work. But the interpersonal skills and work relationships you develop are just as important to your career growth.
Building good work relationships fosters better teamwork, safeguards you from toxic environments, and creates supportive networks to help you land promotions and new opportunities.
Workplace relationships take time, dedication, and intention. And like any other relationship, they don’t have a finish line. They’re about continuously fine-tuning your interpersonal skills and supporting the positive relationships you already have.
Let’s explore valuable skills to improve and foster healthy relationships at work, with relationship-building skill examples to get you started.
How do you develop relationships at work?
Nurturing strong relationships at work can give you the support you need to thrive, and it all depends on your soft skills development. Soft skills determine how you approach specific work tasks, challenges, or social environments, and they can apply to almost any situation.
Interpersonal and people skills are natural extensions of your personality. Maybe you’re a natural people person and use your power to connect with others and construct an extensive professional network. Maybe you’re more introverted and develop your ability to listen intently to build trust with your coworkers.
Everyone’s skills are different and can bring something unique to the table when it comes to building relationships. And even though many are innate, you can learn and foster new ones. Developing self-awareness of your existing skill set will help you fine-tune your abilities and improve your personal and professional relationships.
5 examples of relationship-building skills
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, teamwork, networking, and communication are essential skills employers look for, no matter what industry you work in. Here are a few more professional relationship-building skills to practice, whether you want to make friends at work or extend your network:
1. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, express, and regulate your emotions. Developing self-awareness about your feelings and experiences helps you set boundaries when you need to and understand others when they share their thoughts. Strong emotional intelligence also aids your learning, problem-solving, and decision-making processes to make you a better employee overall.
If you’re frustrated with a difficult coworker who constantly complains, emotional intelligence encourages you to step back, calmly assess the situation, and deal with it personally rather than snap at them or exclude them from the team.
Through conversation, you might learn they’re going through a difficult crisis in their personal life or are having a hard time with imposter syndrome. With some empathy and support, you build a trusting relationship and improve the team dynamic.
2. Active listening
Humans yearn to connect with one another and need friendship, connection, and belonging to stay motivated and happy. This is why you might feel a tinge of frustration or discomfort when someone interrupts you during a meeting or ignores your ideas in brainstorming sessions.
Active listening is an umbrella for several listening skills that let you stay in the moment and direct all your attention to the conversation, whether you’re watching a group presentation online or having a one-on-one meeting.
Learning how to improve listening skills will deepen your focus, help you read between the lines, and retain information. Plus, the skills you hone in the office will carry over into successful personal relationships.
In your next meeting, try paying attention to every person in the room. Did they all have time to speak up? Is the team leaving behind a valid idea? Ask good follow-up questions and use your body language to show everyone that you’re listening and interested in what they have to say.
According to a 2022 Jobvite job seeker report, 46% of job seekers hear about jobs through friends, and 25% hear through their professional network. Building a strong network is a great way to find open positions if you’re looking for a job. But connecting with professionals also opens up your potential to share knowledge and contribute to your industry.
Like other social interactions, networking requires paying attention to your verbal and nonverbal communication skills, carrying a conversation, and identifying common goals and interests — all of which are important relationship-building tools.
The first step to learning how to improve networking skills is putting yourself out there. Look for a local professional association, ask leadership within your company about events, or check in on social media for networking opportunities.
Next time you’re invited to an industry conference or company event, remember that your next innovative idea or business partnership could stem from a friendly conversation with a like-minded professional.
Every job requires some level of collaboration and teamwork skills. Even introverts working from home have to build relationships with their teams, supervisors, and clients. Solid relationships will help you learn from your coworkers’ knowledge, develop creative ideas, and grow personally and professionally.
When you work as a team player, you understand your role in the chain. You meet deadlines to support your team’s workflow, practice healthy conflict resolution, and are adaptable. Successful teamwork means leveraging everyone’s individual strengths through open communication and shared responsibility.
Teamwork is all about working together toward a common goal and focusing on feedback is one way to get there. Next time you have a constructive comment for someone on your team, start a conversation. Giving effective feedback opens a productive conversation and creates a workplace environment where everyone has room to grow.
5. Verbal and nonverbal communication
When you pay attention to all of your communication, you demonstrate your engagement at work, inspire others to be more productive, and influence people to sign on to your ideas.
And effective communication involves more than just what you say.
While learning to speak with clarity, structure, and intention will help you express an idea, learning how to improve your nonverbal communication will help you sell it. According to the 7-38-55 rule, 55% of communication happens through body language.
Next time you’re talking to a coworker, pay attention to how you’re using different types of nonverbal communication. Make your body language match your feelings and the ideas you’re trying to express. If you’re listening to them vent about a problem they’re having, lean in and make eye contact to let them know you’re listening. This can make your relationship stronger.
How to take relationship-building skills to the next level
Now that you know what skills will help advance your career path, let’s explore some ways to push them to the next level. Here are six relationship-building tips to incorporate into your day-to-day work routine:
- Use feedback: Giving thoughtful feedback helps others grow, and it might encourage them to give you valuable, constructive criticism in return. This circular relationship encourages mutual growth, respect, and trust.
Be approachable: Keep a friendly and open attitude without burning yourself out. Say “hello” before and after meetings, ask how your co-worker’s day is going, and let them know you’re willing to talk through issues with them.
Receive your coworkers with warmth and friendliness, but practice setting boundaries if the social interaction interferes with your job.
- Practice gratitude: Saying “thank you” goes a long way. It lets your team members know you see them and their contributions. A small show of gratitude is a small gesture that shows humility and builds stronger teams.
Keep your word: When you commit to something, always follow through. Demonstrating your trustworthiness and work ethic will garner you respect and motivate people to want to work with you.
When you can’t follow through on a commitment, be proactive. Let people know and seek solutions beforehand.
- Foster cooperation: Being receptive to other people’s points of view and brainstorming ideas with them is essential to building collaborative teams. Your ability to work with others will stimulate a creative environment that contributes to better productivity, breaks down silos, and fosters innovation.
- Be supportive: Help out your colleagues and coworkers even when you have to go out of your way. Giving a helping hand, workshopping an idea, or giving emotional support will show that you’re invested in their well-being and success.
Relationship killers to avoid at work
Strong relationships don’t happen overnight, and even the most solid workplace friendship has its ups and downs. But consistent bad habits can quickly erode their foundations. To nurture an environment of mutual trust and respect, be careful of the following relationship killers:
- Unconscious biases: You’re already aware of your own personal life problems, but you may not give the benefit of the doubt to your coworkers and colleagues. Developing empathy and self-awareness can help you tear down cognitive biases and see people for who they are.
- Office gossip: Negative office gossip undermines healthy work environments and strains trust among coworkers. When people feel emotionally unsafe, unsupported, or disrespected, they might be less likely to share ideas or bring their whole selves to work.
And persistent office gossip can impact your reputation and even put your job at risk.
- Conflict avoidance: Conflict resolution isn’t always easy, but letting frustrations simmer is a recipe for resentment and poor teamwork. Take time to assess a situation and deal with problems head-on.
You’ll show your integrity and develop important people management skills that people will pay attention to.
- Micromanaging: Taking over your team’s work will undermine confidence and team morale. Learn to delegate, provide constructive criticism, and give guidance instead of micromanaging. The learning environment you stimulate will create more trust and confidence in you as a leader.
Office politics: Don’t confuse calculated career moves with office politics. Getting involved in ego contests and clique behavior creates barriers to important relationships and opportunities. Concentrate on what’s important: your work. Staying kind and professional will show your integrity and foster trust.
How job seekers can show off their relationship-building skills
Recruiters and hiring managers want to know you have the soft skills to fit on a team and grow with the company. You should highlight your relationship-building skills on your resume, cover letter, and interview. Here’s how:
- Resume: Pay attention to the responsibilities in the job posting and align them with the things you’re good at. Add skills to your resume throughout, like in your work experience, summary, or separate skills section. If you’re going for a sales position, highlight your ability to communicate creatively and relate to people.
- Cover letter: Choose a previous experience that highlights how your relationship-building skills will make you a valuable employee. If the job requires teamwork, tell them how you effectively collaborated with a group of team members or interfaced across specific departments.
Interview: An interviewer will likely ask you about past work experiences or challenges. Use this opportunity to discuss how your teamwork skills contributed to successful projects, like if you helped bring on new clients, sell a successful business presentation, or manage a team that exceeded yearly projections.
Create relationships that last
Now that you have some relationship-building skills examples, it’s time to start building better interpersonal skills and stronger relationships in the workplace.
Your professional network won’t appear overnight. But taking the time to build self-awareness, work on your skills, and build meaningful interactions with your colleagues is a career investment that pays off. You’ll open the door to new opportunities and a sense of belonging that pushes you forward.