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People Skills

Three Strategies to Stop Unconsciously Undermining Relationships at Work

By Carson Tate

Now that our communications are almost all virtual, it’s even harder to pick up on physical cues. Here’s timely advice from author Carson Tate on ways to build strong, authentic relationships onscreen and off.

Human beings are social animals with a fundamental need for connection. Research shows that social needs are processed by the brain the same way as the need for food and water. This helps explain why when someone glazes over as you describe the documentary that captivated you on Netflix — or starts typing when you describe your child’s popsicle art masterpiece on your Zoom call — you probably take it personally and assume that person is rude and insensitive.

Social connections motivate you and fuel your innovation, creativity and productivity. So you don’t want to let your emotions undermine your relationships or your performance.

Strategies for Strong, Authentic Relationships at Work

Here are three strategies to help you stop unconsciously undermining relationships so you can build strong, authentic relationships in our new virtual world of work.

1. Use the Platinum Rule to Foster Mutual Respect and Understanding

As children, many of us learned the Golden Rule, to treat others as you want them to treat you. Your parents, teachers and other adults in your life knew the Golden Rule’s core virtues of empathy and compassion for others guided positive social interaction. As an adult, I learned about the “Platinum Rule” and came to realize that it more powerfully shapes positive social interaction.

The Platinum Rule suggests that you treat others the way they want to be treated.

The Platinum Rule challenges the assumption that other people want to be treated the way you want to be treated. Instead, you approach people with the intention to first understand how they want to be treated and then adapt to meet their needs. The Platinum Rule is a powerful way to foster mutual respect and understanding with professional colleagues so you can build vibrant virtual relationships. It also can help you avoid making a negative assumption about someone’s behavior, which can undermine constructive social interaction.

2. Identify Your Colleagues’ Workstyles

To understand how your team members and colleagues wanted to be treated, identify their workstyles. Your workstyle is the way you think about, organize and complete your tasks. (To identify your style, you can take an assessment I designed, called the Productivity Style Assessment, here.)

In any office, you will find four types of workstyles:

  • Logical, analytical and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive and emotionally oriented
  • Strategic, integrative and idea-oriented

To determine a colleague’s workstyle, think about the following questions:

  • Does she consistently complete work early, in advance of deadlines, or wait until the last minute?
  • Does he send emails with only a few words or write novels?
  • Does she gesture and use her hands while talking? Or is she more controlled and stoic in her movements?

If you need additional clues, notice the type of work your colleagues prefer and where they excel.

  • Your logical, analytical colleague is at her best when she processes data and solves complex problems. She will focus like a laser to achieve any stated goal or outcome and ensure that you stay on budget.
  • Your organized, detail-oriented colleague prefers to establish order from chaos, outline project plans and create to-do lists. He will ensure work is completed accurately and on time.
  • Your supportive, expressive colleague expertly builds relationships, facilitates team interaction and sells ideas. She will keep stakeholders up to date on work and effectively communicates ideas through the organization.
  • Your big-picture, integrative colleague can serve as a catalyst for change, brainstorm solutions to problems and synthesize disparate thinking. He will drive innovation, ensure variety in both thought and execution, and keep you moving forward.

Once you have identified your colleagues’ workstyles, use the Platinum Rule in your interactions with them and treat them as they want to be treated.

3. Tailor Your Communication to Your Co-workers’ Preferences

To stop unconsciously undermining relationships and build strong virtual ones, tailor your communication to the nuances of each workstyle so you can connect with them.

  • Your logical, analytical and data-oriented colleagues want you to focus on data and the facts. Be brief, succinct, clear and precise. Think through your ideas in advance and present them in a logical format. If you send an email, be direct, to the point and technically accurate.
  • Your organized, plan-focused and detail-oriented colleagues want you to stay on topic, avoid digressions, present your ideas in a sequential, organized manner and provide detailed timelines. If you send an email, outline your main points and clearly state their next action steps and the due date.
  • Your supportive, expressive and emotionally oriented colleagues want the conversation to be informal, open and warm, with no hidden agenda. They want to know who is involved in projects, and they want team members to have equal consideration when plans are being made. If you send an email, include a salutation and connect with them personally before you transition to the topic of the email.
  • Your strategic, integrative and idea-oriented colleagues want you to communicate with minimal details, provide the big picture with visuals and metaphors, and articulate how the project aligns with the organization’s strategy. They prefer an overview and broad conceptual framework, so limit the details. If you send an email, provide the big picture and context for the email and avoid too many details.

Work has radically changed. Zoom is now both a noun and a verb. For many of us, 0ur professional relationships are almost exclusively virtual. To build strong, authentic relationships in this new world of work, use the Platinum Rule, identify your colleagues’ workstyles and tailor your communication to co-workers’ preferences.

Additional Resources on Relationships at Work

“Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style” by Carson Tate

“Own It. Love It. Make It Work. How to Make Any Job Your Dream Job” by Carson Tate

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work” by Shawn Achor (Crown Business, 2010).

“Five Ways to Build Stronger Client Relationships From Day One” by Michelle Lawless

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Carson Tate Headshot Carson Tate

Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that partners with organizations, business leaders and employees to enhance workplace productivity, foster employee engagement, and build personal and professional legacies. She is the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work.: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job. For more information, please visit Follow Carson on Twitter and Instagram @thecarsontate.

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