An early-career professional's guide to developing strong, supportive relationships at work

An early-career professional's guide to developing strong, supportive relationships at work
Carson Tate is a business consultant and author.Carson Tate
  • Carson Tate is the founder of a business consulting firm that works to enhance workplace productivity.
  • She says building genuine professional relationships is key to having a happy and long-lasting career.
  • Follow the platinum rule when communicating with others and learn how to control your emotional reactions during tense situations.

When you are new in your career, strong, authentic relationships are vital for career success and growth. However, too often you can unconsciously undermine relationships in your interactions with your colleagues when you make assumptions about their behavior, use one-size-fits-all communication techniques, and get hijacked by your emotions.

Here are three strategies to build strong, genuine relationships.

1. Use the platinum rule to foster mutual respect and understanding

Many of us learned the golden rule, to treat others as you want them to treat you, as a young child. Your parents, teachers, and adults in your life knew that 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. It suggests that you treat others the way they want to be treated.
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The platinum rule challenges the assumption that other people want to be treated the way you want to be treated. You approach people with the intention to first understand how they want to be treated and then adapt your interactions with them to meet their needs. The platinum rule can help you avoid making a negative assumption about someone's behavior, which undermines constructive social interaction.

2. Tailor your communication to your colleagues' work styles to be heard and understood

To use the platinum rule and help understand how your colleagues wanted to be treated, let's explore the concept of work styles. Your work style is the way you think about, organize, and complete your tasks. In any office you will find four types of work styles:

  • Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
  • Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented
Think about the following questions to determine the work style of your co-workers:
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  • 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?

These clues, both subtle and overt, will provide insight to your team members' work style.

Once you have identified your colleagues' work style, tailor your communication style to align with how they want to communicate.
  • Your logical, analytical, and data-oriented colleagues want you to focus on data and the facts. Be brief, succinct, clear, and precise. If you send an email, keep it short.
  • Your organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented colleagues want you to stay on topic, present your ideas in a sequential, organized manner and provide detailed timelines. If you send an email, outline your main points, and clearly state next action steps and due dates.
  • Your supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented colleagues want the conversation to be informal, open, and warm. 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. If you send an email, provide the context, and avoid too many details.

3. Identify the SCARF threats that hijack your emotions and interactions

Have you ever been in a situation where you were hijacked by your emotions? You raise your voice, get visibly angry, or completely withdraw and abandon the conversation. Almost immediately you regret what you said or did because of social concerns. You know that your reaction could negatively impact a relationship and or your reputation in the office.
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David Rock, cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has proposed a framework that captures the common factors that can activate your brain's risk or reward response in social situations. Rock calls it the SCARF model and includes five domains of human experience: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.

  • Status is about your relative importance to others, or the "pecking order" or seniority in the office. It's knowing who has the most power in the room due to title.
  • Certainty is about your need for clarity and the ability to predict the future. Our brains like to know the pattern that is occurring moment to moment. It craves certainty so prediction is possible.
  • Autonomy is the perception that you can exert control over the events in your life and your environment. It is the sense that you have and can make choices.
  • Relatedness is your sense of connection to and security with another person. It is whether someone is perceived as similar or dissimilar to you. We naturally like to form groups with people who are "like us."
  • Fairness refers to just and unbiased exchange between people. It's about a perception of a fair exchange between people.

To have more positive social interactions and build supportive relationships, identify your primary SCARF threat, and stop your emotions from hijacking your interaction colleagues.

Using the platinum rule, tailoring your communication to coworkers' preferences, and identifying the SCARF threats that hijack your emotions and interpersonal interactions will work in tandem to advance in your career and build strong, authentic relationships in the workplace
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Carson Tate is the founder of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that works to enhance workplace productivity, and the author of "Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job."

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