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Leveling Up: Top strategies for cultivating better professional relationships

Effective interpersonal work relationships are often a key component of job satisfaction, promotional opportunities, pay increases and more.
Keesha Boyd, Executive Director, Multicultural Video & Entertainment, Xfinity Consumer Services, Comcast NBCU.
Keesha Boyd, Executive Director, Multicultural Video & Entertainment, Xfinity Consumer Services, Comcast NBCU.Comcast NBCUniversal

When it comes to your career, relationships are paramount. Not only is it critical for success, but employee satisfaction also jumps as much as 50 percent when a worker develops meaningful relationships on the job, according to the National Business Research Institute.

“When you think about career trajectory and moving throughout an organization, it’s not enough to do really great work,” said Keesha Boyd, an organizational psychologist and executive director of multicultural video and entertainment at Comcast. “It’s important to make sure that folks are aware of the work that you’re doing.”

As part of Know Your Value’s “Leveling Up” series, Mika Brzezinski and Boyd recently discussed why relationships at work matter and how to make them stronger.

1. Get out of your comfort zone

Simply put, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and build relationships with people within your workplace.

“You have to find those bits and pieces and spaces of connectivity with others so that they’re able to tell your story when you’re not in the room,” Boyd said. “All of that comes from those basic building blocks of relationship building, it’s the rapport building, it’s the authenticity, it’s making sure the relationship is mutually beneficial.”

When all of these things come together to create meaningful connections with people in the workplace, it further enhances your ability to navigate your organization. As Boyd explained, it influences “your ability to reach further than the spaces and places that you’re in because other people are aware of what you do and how you do it and they can speak on your behalf.”

2. Be authentic

In workplace relationships, faking it will only get you so far. Instead, show who you are and be authentic. You and those you connect with will feel the difference.

“Connecting with anyone has to come from a genuine place,” Boyd said. “You’re going to find it very hard to build lasting, meaningful and fruitful relationships if you’re not coming from a real space of authenticity, where someone can actually connect with you.”

So how exactly do you accomplish this? A big part of it comes down to knowing who you are and standing by your values. “Know what you stand for and be very clear about what makes up you,” Boyd said, suggesting you should then seek out individuals that align with who you are.

“It makes it that much easier to create those connections and to be genuine in the way that those connections get formed. And then people feel more naturally inclined to organically speak about you and their experience with you because it feels right,” Boyd said.

3. Be honest

Remain honest and open about where your strengths are and where you have opportunities for development. If you’re not self-aware, this makes it harder for a leader to help, Boyd explained.

Brzezinski added that showing vulnerability in the workplace requires a bit of a balancing act. You can certainly show some vulnerability, such as sharing that you are feeling nervous about starting a new project, but then follow it up with, say, the steps you plan to take to ensure that you’ll be successful.

4. Make your relationships mutually beneficial

Strive to make your connections mutually beneficial, rather than one-sided. This begins by thinking — and acting on — what you can do for others to help make their roles more successful, streamlined or just a bit easier.

“A transactional relationship is when you come to a person, and it seems that you are always coming with your hand out… You need something from them,” Boyd said. “They experience that relationship with you as, ‘oh here comes that person again, they want something from me.’”

On the other hand, when a relationship is mutually beneficial, both people are getting something out of that connection. It benefits both individuals. They continue to stay connected to one another because they are both growing and deepening their own knowledge. “If you come to someone with something you can do for them, that person will be more likely to reciprocate that circumstance back to you,” Boyd said.

5. Create a diverse circle

It’s incredibly important to diversify the relationships you’re building at work. “This supports your own growth and gives you that much more data to work with,” Boyd said.

When you have diversified interactions, this adds to your repertoire to be a better individual and a more informed individual at work, Boyd explained. You can then pass that knowledge on to someone else.

For example, if you’re a woman, make sure that not all your mentors are women. Or, if you’re a person of color, all of your mentors should not be people of color, Boyd suggested. It’s important to get to know different perspectives and points of view.

“It’s important to draw on different experiences, cultures and perspectives when building your relationships,” Boyd said.

Also be sure to build relationships with people at all leadership levels within an organization.

“Branch out in every way you can,” Brzezinski said.