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How to build better working relationships

Posted on by from INSEAD

How can you build better working relationships that lead to business success? Miguel Lobo of INSEAD suggests five ways to become more effective.

Do you believe success at work should be all about competencies and that emotions should be left at home with family and friends? You’re not alone. However, this viewpoint is increasingly out of date in the modern workplace, where organisations are becoming more complex and operating in networked, rather than hierarchical, structures. Consequently, the way we create value in our businesses is changing.

Today's jobs rarely create value through linear, repeatable tasks – and those that do are being automated out of existence. Increasingly, businesses create value through information, knowledge and coordination. For each of these, relationships are central. Coordination only works if relationships work. The business only succeeds if knowledge flows through the network of employees accurately and quickly.

This is all the more important when you consider future talent – who put a greater emphasis on relationships at work and want to develop more emotionally rewarding careers.

In order to adapt your people to this new world, you will need to establish managing relationships as a core competency for all your employees. To be successful in this, you must first examine your own emotional intelligence and acknowledge and accept your own biases before you can develop your people. Here are five ways to build better working relationships.

Accept that you prioritise liking over competence

Most managers believe that, based on their professional identity, they make choices at work based on other people’s competence, rather than on whether they like them.

This is not true: you probably prioritise liking over competence more than you think you do. This is not always a bad thing. Establishing trust and being approachable is essential to building relationships that work.

Recognise that relationship building is vital

Don’t treat working relationships as an afterthought. When recruiting, defining jobs and training, make proficiency in collaborating with others a key trait.

Know that bias affects diversity

We tend to like people similar to ourselves and choose people we like. Teams that lack diversity are ineffective.

Homogeneity reduces creativity and problem solving. Redesign your notion of similarity. Develop a team identity to create affinity across an otherwise diverse group.

Make relationship management a core competency

‘Competent jerks' (competent but poor at relationships) have a strong identity around task-based success, and reject considerations such as likeability. Trying to change a person's identity is a losing game.

Rather than trying to make them be nice for the sake of it, put likeability into their competency identity: make them see managing relationships as a core competence.

Use the power of reciprocity

One of the greatest forces in human emotions is reciprocity: I like you if you like me, I trust you if you trust me – we even tend to fall in love with someone who’s falling in love with us.

Use reciprocity to create a positive environment characterised by collaboration, communication and knowledge-sharing. Give positive feedback, show appreciation and initiate trust.

Miguel Lobo

By Miguel Lobo

Miguel is the director of INSEAD's Middle East campus. He has worked in Silicon Valley and held positions at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.

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