4 Behaviors to Avoid When You’re Trying to Build Relationships at Work

Building relationships in the workplace is one of the most important aspects of working together as a team. Without effective teamwork, achieving results is next to impossible.

One of the most effective ways to keep relationships at work healthy and positive is to remain focused on mutual goals and a shared dedication to the work at hand. Allowing personal differences or misunderstandings to get in the way of achievement can ruin those critical working relationships.

Here are four ways to avoid souring collaborative relationships in the workplace.

A man wearing a suit and sitting at a wooden desk is building effective workplace relationships with his colleague who is just out of the picture — they are shaking hands.

1. Avoid Reacting Impulsively to Maintain Existing Relationships

Reacting too quickly to something that could be perceived as negative is likely to lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication.

The impulsive desire to respond to a message or behavior that’s perceived as undesirable keeps the interaction in a negative space. The back-and-forth dialogue can become personal and misdirect the focus from the important issues at hand.

A loss of focus on work can damage a relationship with a valuable colleague whose collaboration you’re depending on.

Instead, when encountering something perceived as negative or undesirable, try waiting a day or two to respond. Stepping back and taking time to calm down can help ensure the response has an appropriate tone and focus. This can also build currency towards maintaining and strengthening important workplace relationships.

2. Avoid Interrupting Your Teammates to Add Value to Work Relationships

Again, the key is to avoid reacting impulsively and impatiently.

Allowing the other person to speak fully and freely, to finish getting their idea or opinion out onto the table in their own way, allows them to feel they have been completely heard, which is much more likely to encourage them to listen to what else is being offered on the subject.

Actually hearing each other out allows everyone to feel valued and lines up with the core principle of trust among team members.

3. Avoid Making Assumptions

It’s sometimes difficult to be sure what someone else is actually trying to communicate, and it’s easy to jump to incorrect conclusions.

Referring back to our two previous suggestions, avoid the hasty response or conclusion. Try exercising some patience instead. Here are some concrete suggestions for taking the guesswork out of your interactions and avoiding harmful misunderstanding:

Listen to Understand

Building further on the suggestion to avoid interrupting, make sure the other person knows that they are being heard and that their intended message is the priority.

It’s easy to jump on a single word or a fragment of the overall message and make it the focus of the conversation, but that’s a distraction from the work at hand and the shared desire for results. Impulsive reactions can make the person self-conscious and damage the relationship.

Let the message they want to communicate stand on its own merit.

Ask for Clarification

Be an active listener. Wait for the initial dialogue turn to play out, and then ask thoughtful follow-up questions.

Before responding, a good suggestion is to rephrase what you’ve understood with an opening like, “What I’ve heard you saying is (summarize the main points of their message). Is that correct?”

Once some confirmation has been given, it will be easier to proceed with feedback or further discussion of the issues without being distracted by the delivery. Again, the other person will feel respected and heard.

Follow Up in Writing (If Necessary)

When time is limited, or when impulsive reactions are bubbling to the surface, try stepping away and responding later in writing.

A written response allows for careful thought and review before the message is delivered — the opposite of impulsive behavior. Everyone involved is likely to have quieted down and refocused by the time your response reaches them.

This suggestion is especially useful when the subject matter is delicate or volatile, and it allows you to develop useful follow-up thoughts or questions to keep the dialogue rolling.

All of these methods keep the focus of the discussion on the issues and work that need to be done, which can prevent the encounter from becoming personal, a critical key to building relationships in the workplace.

(Click to find out more about building effective workplace relationships.)

4. Avoid Stereotyping

Team members’ knowledge about their own personalities and workstyles, and about the preferences and tendencies of their teammates, can assist in the development of valuable relationship-building skills.

However, that useful information can also be mishandled or misinterpreted, morphing into a mechanism for labelling teammates.

Labeling coworkers as one type or another (you can read more about those personality types here) can lead to a failure to listen to them fully. Such stereotypes can be barriers that lead to avoiding communication with certain coworkers viewed as difficult, or to a counterproductive level of caution in important interactions where open discussion is critical.

A thorough explanation of personality assessment tools (such as Everything DiSC®) and instruction in their application can go a long way in promoting positive relationships in the workplace. When explanation is provided without the tools to successfully utilize the information, harmful stereotypes can result.

Relationship Building Is Key to Successful Collaboration in the Workplace

Successful teamwork makes a tremendous difference in accomplishing goals.

Without positive workplace relationships and effective communication, desired results are unlikely.

Integris is here to support your team’s efforts to build effective workplace relationships and master more effective communication skills — click here to learn more about how understanding personality types can aid your team in developing productive workplace relationships.



Brett Cooper

Brett is the visionary President of Integris Performance Advisors, a professional development firm he co-founded to expand the existence of healthy organizations and great places to work. By creatively bringing together concepts from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni), The Leadership Challenge (by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner), and Lean Six Sigma, Brett and his team have influenced thousands of people in government, non-profits and corporate America to work together in more productive, more effective and more human ways. Outside of his role at Integris, Brett dedicates time to serving others in need. He is a volunteer coordinator for the East Bay Stand Down and Stand Down on the Delta, two non-profits serving the needs of San Francisco’s homeless Veteran population. He is also board member and financial sponsor for Partners in Sustainable Learning, whose mission is to bring early childhood education to marginalized communities in the developing world (current projects are underway in Nepal).