There’s a right way and wrong ways to build relationships at work.
Playing politics and making it personal would be the wrong ways. These are your colleagues who try to win you over by tearing others down or who are forever lobbying for bigger budgets and more people with promises of returning favours. And then there are the coworkers who either make the rounds each day to say a superficial hello and shoot the breeze or who really want to be your best friend and genuinely believe we should be one big happy family at work.
The problem with these relationships is that they don’t hold up when times get tough and hard decisions must be made.
“Workplace politicking and personal rapport are not good business reasons for making decisions or taking actions in the workplace,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. “They are complications at best and, at worst, can lead you to make the wrong decisions or take the wrong actions. In the real world, the best politics in the workplace – and the best way to protect personal relationships with coworkers – is to stay focused on the work.”
To build strong relationships, make yourself indispensable. Build a reputation for making smart decisions, doing important work very well and very fast and finishing what you start.
Tulgan’s studied “go-to” people for decades and has cracked their code. So what’s their secret? Serve others.
“Stop focusing on what other people can do for you and focus instead on what you can do for other people. Make yourself super valuable to others. The more value you add, the more truly invested others will become in your success.”
Go-to people are also big on maintaining what Tulgan calls vertical alignment. Stay perfectly in step with the priorities, ground rules and marching orders set by your boss. Respect the chain of command. “How you align yourself in terms of decision making and support – and with whom – is the first core mechanism of becoming indispensable at work. Get in the habit of going over your own head at every step and align with your boss through regular structured dialogue.”
A word of caution as we dig ourselves out from the pandemic and make the long slog back to business as usual. Learn when to say no, not yet and yes to all the urgent requests that’ll come your way.
“In the postpandemic era, the would-be go-to person is at greater risk than ever before of succumbing to overcommitment syndrome,” says Tulgan. “Fight it. If you try to do everything for everybody, you’ll end up doing nothing for anybody. Now more than ever, it will take extra savvy and skill to manage yourself, your many work relationships and all the competing demands on your time and talent.”
While avoiding overcommitment will be a constant challenge, the alternative – being notably dispensable – will be a far bigger and career-limiting problem.
This review first ran in the June 5 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.