How to win over peers and influence the boss
While some people may be born charming, anyone can develop the ability to build healthy workplace relationships, writes Rachel Autherson
THE JOURNEY TOWARDS your first full-time job can often seem solitary. To begin with, there are hours of preparation for examinations and interviews. Then there are job applications to send and forms to be filled out.
So it can be a bit of a surprise when you join work and realise career progress depends as much on your relationships with others as on your talent and commitment.
Good relationships in the workplace make life a lot easier. Colleagues who listen to your problems and go out of their way to help; bosses with whom you have a good rapport; peers who engage with you productively - all this and more is possible if you have excellent interpersonal skills.
But do not think getting on with others simply means being pleasant and avoiding arguments. Just consider the person most likely to be labelled Mr Nice in your office, and you will realise that being agreeable and keeping a low profile does not guarantee success. In fact, if that is your style, you are more likely to become the office doormat.
To build good relationships, take a proactive approach to every encounter. Whether you are meeting someone for the first or the umpteenth time, remember the way you approach the occasion determines its outcome.
Be alert, nurture the relationship with each contact, and you will soon realise the degree of trust and understanding keeps improving.
First impressions matter, so make sure people remember you for the right reasons. A cheerful tone, a genuine smile and a natural, easygoing manner make a world of difference. Even when nervous, do your best to appear approachable. Take extra care about grooming and hygiene, too - the look should be neat and clean.
The next thing to focus on is trust. In a first meeting, use the other person's name during the conversation. This shows respect and will make your new acquaintance more receptive to your ideas. If you have difficulty remembering names, pay closer attention when getting introduced to someone. Be casual and say: 'Hello Debbie, good to meet you.'
One way of remembering names is to use a visual cue - link a name with a personality. Another way is to create a rhyme. For example, when introduced to a new colleague, you might come up with an mnemonic such as: 'Pete sits on the left seat.' Also, use the name again as you say goodbye.
The goal should be to build a sense of co-operation. Try to see things from the other person's point of view and adjust your style, tone and comments accordingly.
For instance, if you need to ask for someone's help, first consider whether the person is distracted or obviously under pressure. If so, find a better time to approach your colleague.
It helps if you understand the possible motivations and needs of people, and change your behaviour accordingly. For example, some managers may want a briefing in person rather than through a lengthy e-mail.
However, avoid making judgments based on stereotypes. The best way to understand a person is to ask questions.
Some questions are fairly standard for a first meeting, such as: 'Gill, how long have you been working here?' The answer will give you clues about how to deal with that person. An old hand will probably expect greater respect, whereas a newcomer will need encouragement.
Some people are good at asking questions but are poor listeners. They may pretend to listen but their minds wander, perhaps thinking of the next question or making judgments.
Until you learn to listen attentively, there will be no real connection in your relationships. So allow people to talk and show an interest in their views. Build on what they say and remember that sharing similar perspectives leads to a sense of bonding.
It is easy to think some people are born with natural charm. However, anyone can develop the ability to build relationships by choosing their words carefully. By using positive words, you can show others you love to work with them, are keen to avoid conflict and value their opinions.
Avoid absolute phrases that imply you are always right. Instead, present your ideas as suggestions that are open to discussion. Rather than saying 'Peter will not be able to help', say 'I heard Peter is quite busy at the moment. Perhaps we can think of someone else.'
An excellent way of building co-operation is to recognise other people's abilities. Do not forget it is a human need to feel important and appreciated. Your words, of course, have to be sincere.
The most effective way of complimenting someone is to make your comment a part of the natural flow of conversation. For example, when discussing a new project, say: 'I heard the boss liked your proposal. I would love to hear more about it.'
Finally, examine the way you do things. If you generally focus on how things could go wrong, change your perspective and concentrate more on how things could go right.
The next time you are worried about meeting someone, be positive and expect the person to co-operate with you. You will be surprised how quickly they come around to your way of thinking.
Article sponsored by Gemini Personnel Limited, the trusted name in personnel
IRONING OUT DIFFERENCES
If your aim is to foster a sense of goodwill with everyone you meet, the last thing you want is to get into an argument. So, when faced with strong resistance or radically different points of view, take the advice of Dale Carnegie. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, he outlined a range of relationship-building techniques and explained that the best way to prevent arguments is by acknowledging the other person's right to their opinion. For example, you might say: 'I can understand why you feel this way; if I were you, I guess I would feel the same.'
Acknowledge your colleague's positive intentions and the parts of their argument you agree with. Perhaps say: 'I understand you are trying to do your best for the company and I like your idea about contacting Jo.'
Note areas in which you agree by saying: 'I share your concern for making this work.'
Ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions. For example: 'I am not sure I have fully understood your plan. Before I share my thoughts, can you tell me more?'
Be willing to make a concession - no matter how small.
Be open about your weaknesses; it will be easier for others to reconsider their position. 'Perhaps I have not seen this from your perspective. If we discuss it further, do you think we could agree on another option?'