The Black Woman's Career Playbook

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Top 5 Ways to Build Relationships at Work

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Relationships. They are the cornerstone of any successful career. Building the right relationships with the right people is vital to reaching your potential, your professional goals and even your destiny. Women and men tend to build their work relationships differently; most men build broad networks at work, based on reciprocity while most women build deeper, meaningful relationships but have smaller networks.

According to Joanna Barsh, Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and best-selling author of How Remarkable Women Lead, the key is to build trust and always be open to meeting people who can help you achieve your vision. Here are Barsh’s top ways to build relationships.


Pay Attention. We tend to make introductions without realizing it, and then forget them just as quickly. The first thing to do is be aware of who you are meeting in your day-to-day work life and pay attention to the mindsets that drive your behavior. Do you tend to only meet peers because you are nervous about interacting with more senior executives? Beliefs like this are neither good nor bad, they just are. But understanding what drives you is an essential first step to strategically building relationships and networks.



A Perfect Mix. Strike a good balance between personal and professional in your interactions. Warm, authentic behavior is so much more interesting and memorable than "generic professional." You will stand out for your warmth, be respected for your professionalism and others will find it easy to interact with you. A win-win all around! 



Trust Me. Figure out what you can do to gain the trust of others. Be sure to always follow up, even if it’s just a thank you email with a brief recap of your next steps. Let others see that you’re dependable and trustworthy. 

Half-Full. Optimism is an important plus. Everyone likes to be around people who can work around challenges and see the possibilities. Work on being an energy booster. Criticism and complaints may be necessary when you're problem solving, but they drain energy. Think about the impact you want to have when you enter a room. 



Give and Take. Work towards reciprocity. That means fostering relationships with a give and take attitude. Many women are givers but rarely ask for what they want. Think of each relationship as one that will be a two-way street, but remember not to be calculated. Be okay with sometimes giving but not receiving instantly (overt give and take makes you appear transactional or overly commercial). Start by giving, but don't hold back from requesting when the time comes. 

Joanna Barsh’s new book, Centered Leadership, will be available this month. 


This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of ESSENCE magazine.

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